Past Event

Full-body scanners: Security hopes and privacy fears

The announcement that O’Hare International Airport will soon install a full-body scanner prompted this headline from Chicagoist: “Invasion Of The Body Scanners.” With the scanner’s arrival come “both the hope of better security and fear of invasion of privacy,” reported the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen Mack. The high-tech imagining devices “peer through clothing—showing shapes, folds of fat and other anatomical characteristics—to identify possible hidden objects,” Mack wrote.

Full-body scanners in the U.S. come in the wake of the attempt to take down a passenger jetliner as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day. European Union officials also are discussing plans to expand the use of body-imaging scanners. Proponents say that as terrorists find more innovative ways to evade current security systems, these scanners will help ensure the safety of passengers. In speaking of the failed terrorist attempt on Christmas Day, Dutch Interior Minister Guusje ter Horst said “Our view now is that the use of millimeter-wave scanners would certainly have helped detect that he had something on his body.”

When the scanner begins operating at O’Hare, randomly selected passengers will have the option of walking through the revealing device or being patted down by a Transportation Safety Administration screener of the same gender, officials said. A metal detector or hand-wand, plus an old-fashioned frisk, however, will screen those who do object.

Boston’s Logan Airport is set to get three scanners, making Chicago and Boston the first U.S. airports to receive 150 new machines that were purchased with federal stimulus money, Jim Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, told the Tribune. The scanners cost $150,000 each. Other airports across the country will get scanners by the end of June.

Critics say the full-body scanning technology isn’t a “magic machine” that will solve completely aviation security concerns. “Regardless of the sophistication of the piece of technology, if you can collect the information on how it works and what its technical parameters are, then that machine is not going to deter a [sophisticated] terrorist operation,” Richard Bloom, director of terrorism, intelligence, and security studies at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told CNN. Bloom says that scanners would not have caught substances hidden in a bodily orifice or substances concealed by folds of skin on an obese suspect.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union also believe that the scanners will violate Americans’ privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz has sponsored legislation to ban whole-body imaging machines because he believes they are an invasion of privacy, the Salt Lake City Examiner reported. Chaffetz charged that the TSA agents tried to force him to use the body scan and when he refused, they interrogated him.

Others are questioning “the safety of delivering small doses of radiation to millions of people — a process some experts say is certain to result in a few additional cancer deaths,” The New York Times reported. ”The radiation dose administered by the scan is so small that the risk to an individual is negligible. But collectively, the radiation doses from the scanners incrementally increase the risk of fatal cancers among the thousands or millions of travelers who will be exposed, some radiation experts believe.”

Another anti-scanner argument is that the devices breach child protection laws, which ban the creation of indecent images of children. Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to “virtual strip-searching,” The Guardian reported. Even Pope Benedict XVI has weighed in on the privacy debate. He said the threat of global terrorism did not warrant intrusions into personal privacy, according to the Catholic News Agency.

What do you see as the pros and cons of using full-body scanners in airports? What do you believe are the limits to protecting airline passengers? What weaknesses—or strengths—do you see in the TSA screening procedures? How can the public ever really be truly safe from terrorist threats? What limits, if any, should the government face when it comes to screening airline passengers and other travelers? Do you believe full-body scanners are Constitutional? Why or why not?

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