promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

Digital ‘strip searching’ at airports?

In Individual Sovereignty, liberty and rights, protest on February 16, 2010 at 3:16 am

 

A millimeter scanner

When I flew home for Christmas break on Dec. 19, I wasnt aware of the controversial body scanners TSA was beginning to employ. But after the failed attempt by the now notorious Christmas bomber, I realized my digital figure, minus boots, sweater and pants, had already been viewed by TSA agents.

Tulsa International Airport is among the 19 U.S. airports TSA has selected to use the full-body scanners. The scanners, like Supermans x-ray vision, produce digital images of a persons naked figure. While the renderings arent exactly pornographic, privacy advocates and civil rights groups have raised strong objection to the scanners.

Originally, TSA claimed the machines would only be used on persons requiring extra screening. Instead of a full-body pat down, passengers in question would be subjected to a 2-and-a-half second scan. However, as was the case at Tulsa, airports are instead using the machines for all passengers boarding. Unlike Londons Heathrow airport, passengers in the United States can opt for a full-body pat down.

There are two different types of the body scanners being used. The backscatter uses x-rays to scan and produce a realistic 2 dimensional image. The somewhat less-revealing millimeter scanner I was subjected to at Tulsa, uses terahertz waves to produce a 3D image. The latter appears to be the more widely used.

However, there are serious health concerns over the use of the millimeter scanner and terahertz waves. Terahertz waves lie on the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and microwaves. An article in Technology Review says radiation from these waves could cause DNA strands to tear apart and interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.

Privacy and health concerns have caused European Union President Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba to resist U.S. pressure to implement the scanners. He said a commission will first conduct studies to make sure the machines “are effective, do not harm health, and do not violate privacy.”

Hopefully, the United States will take note and similar precaution.

image produced by a millimeter scanner

image produced by a backscatter

Watch: Germanys Pirate Party members protest the use of airport body scanners in their underwear

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  1. Jessica,

    The weekend “debate” between Biden and Cheney highlights to a degree your issue of unreasonable searches. The two VPs were arguing who had done more to protect Americans, for sure a political hot potato. Electronic survellience, be it body scanners or “evesdropping” fall into that category. Your position is both are unwarrented, or so it seems.

    Amendment IV to the Constitution lies at the heart of the matter. The key word is unreasonable. Is keeping explosives off of airplanes an unreasonable goal of government? Now the challenge is if the “end” is reasonable, what constitutes unreasonable means to achieve the end.

    I for one willingly submit to searches of my property and person to achieve the end. You don’t. The Christmas bomber hid explosives around his gentilia. You object to an electronic or physical search in that vicinity of your body. I don’t.

    At this point in our public psychic one airplane exploding over American skies will in all liklihood bring down a Presidency. If it was your responsibility as a member of his staff to prevent such an occurence, what type of seaches would you suggest for ALL passengers.

    It is one thing to criticize; it is an entirely different matter to propose alternatives to achieve reasonable goals. For now, I gladly stay with the status quo and hope that technology keeps progressing to make such searches as reasonable as possible without invading your privacy which I also respect.

    To me it is not at all unreasonable to believe that powerful explosives hidden in body cavities may soon become a new approach for suicide bombers. Remember, all it takes is one airplane, much less a crowed shopping mall in America.

    I wonder how Israelis feel about intrusive government searches? I haven’t heard of any El Al planes going down for decades now though public places are still a huge problem there.

    Any suggestions?

    Anson

  2. I don’t worry much about unreasonable searches. I worry about stupid searches.

    Americans are particularly prone to risk dysmorphia. People who think nothing of frequent cars rides in-town express concern over flying on commercial airliners – which is absolutely looney. We (well, not the folks who read ‘Redheaded Politics’) are the same about security.

    The cited article ‘How Terahertz Waves Tear Apart DNA’ uses some physics correctly, but not much biology or reality. DNA is already subjected to a constant barrage of ionizing radiation that is more energetic, and higher doses, than a few full-body Terahertz scans. We are exposed, for example, to ultraviolet light (a blatant and common cause of cancer) and cosmic rays (a low level, extremely energetic radiation – but dosing us 24/7 for our entire lifetimes).

    The problem with full-body scanners is that they create an expensive (in capital expenditures and time and misdirected effort) illusion of security. They are easily circumvented by prosthetics and implants. For example, a suicide bomber will have no problem with concealing a sizable liquid explosive in a balloon within the abdominal cavity. This is not detectable by current full-body scanners. Breast implants are detectable, but the scanners cannot distinguish between saline, silicone, or liquid explosive.

    I know how Israelis feel about intrusive government searches. Their government manages searches intelligently. They are very knowledgeable of their targets, and they do not waste time doing extra searches on low-risk folks. How low risk? The U.S. has thousands of examples every day. An example which I have seen several times: our middle daughter, when she was around 20, was always subjected to full searches at airports. They might as well have been searching Winnie the Pooh.

    While we tie ourselves in knots over yesterday’s problems, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the major threats. Domestic terrorism is the largest threat. Another bomb, such as used by Timothy McVeigh, can be placed in a car trunk and driven unmolested into a large, crowded venue. Another anthrax attack is possible – the last attacks were never solved. Simple attacks with common firearms have already happened many times in such vulnerable places as schools.

  3. I don’t worry much about unreasonable searches. I worry about stupid searches.

    Americans are particularly prone to risk dysmorphia. People who think nothing of frequent cars rides in-town express concern over flying on commercial airliners – which is absolutely looney. We (well, not the folks who read ‘Redheaded Politics’) are the same about security.

    The cited article ‘How Terahertz Waves Tear Apart DNA’ uses some physics correctly, but not much biology or reality. DNA is already subjected to a constant barrage of ionizing radiation that is more energetic, and higher doses, than a few full-body Terahertz scans. We are exposed, for example, to ultraviolet light (a blatant and common cause of cancer) and cosmic rays (a low level, extremely energetic radiation – but dosing us 24/7 for our entire lifetimes).

    The problem with full-body scanners is that they create an expensive (in capital expenditures and time and misdirected effort) illusion of security. They are easily circumvented by prosthetics and implants. For example, a suicide bomber will have no problem with concealing a sizable liquid explosive in a balloon within the abdominal cavity. This is not detectable by current full-body scanners. Breast implants are detectable, but the scanners cannot distinguish between saline, silicone, or liquid explosive.

    I know how Israelis feel about intrusive government searches. Their government manages searches intelligently. They are very knowledgeable of their targets, and they do not waste time doing extra searches on low-risk folks. How low risk? The U.S. has thousands of examples every day. An example which I have seen several times: our middle daughter, when she was around 20, was always subjected to full searches at airports. They might as well have been searching Winnie the Pooh.

    While we tie ourselves in knots over yesterday’s problems, we leave ourselves vulnerable to the major threats. Domestic terrorism is the largest threat. Another bomb, such as used by Timothy McVeigh, can be placed in a car trunk and driven unmolested into a large, crowded venue. Another anthrax attack is possible – the last attacks were never solved. Simple attacks with common firearms have already happened many times in such vulnerable places as schools.
    Oops, should add great post! Looking forward to seeing the next post!

  4. Jim,

    Regarding the Israelis, you are on the mark in saying, “They are very knowledgeable of their targets, and they do not waste time doing extra searches on low-risk folks.” If we did that the next scream would be over racial or ethnic profiling.

    Anson

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