Monday, February 26, 2007

New TSA Scanner OK By Me

I’m a pretty big advocate of privacy rights. But, I have to admit, I’m not at all concerned with the new airport security scanner being rolled out at U.S. airports.

Called the backscatter, the new technology can see through clothing to uncover objects metal detectors would miss, such as ceramic knives and plastic explosives. The concern is that the machine can actually produce a fairly accurate nude picture of you – except that the machines being used by the TSA are programmed to show mere outlines, no private parts exposed.

First of all, as far as I’m concerned, the right to privacy exists to shield our thoughts, movements, purchases and personal foibles from government scrutiny. I can think of a lot of private information I deem a hell of a lot more important than what I look like naked. What’s the government going to do with a fuzzy naked pic of me? Mail me a gym membership?

Secondly, that naked picture won’t ever exist. Not only will the backscatter not produce a detailed image, the image it does produce will be deleted immediately. I guess some unruly TSA employee might be able to reconfigure the system to snap a nudie of me and then print it out somewhere, but I’d consider such a scenario highly unlikely. I mean, if any TSA employee has that kind of technical skill, what are they doing working for the TSA?

I’m glad privacy rights activists are monitoring the rollout of this new technology. I think the government should always be scrutinized by the public. But I’m not concerned. In fact, I’m glad we’re finally upping our security system in ways that may actually make us safer.

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Blogger PoliTek said...

I have a hard time believing the "it's just outlines" excuse... there just isn't any way for software to determine which "outlines" are revealing. I would leave detection (not image manipulation, but detection) of metals and explosives (read, homogenous masses larger than 1 pound or so) up to the computer. Let software figure out if you are wearing a gun or bomb, so no human eyes are involved, and the "ick you can see me naked" factor will go away.

Otherwise let's not forget that the rules enshrined in the Bill of Rights provided a certain freedom from laws... in that they could not be enforced without a public display (or evidence in the open) of law breaking, and that they can only be investigated without unnecessary infringments of privacy, etc...

In that sense, our privacy rules protect us from laws that go beyond the "harm principle" in their reasoning, and I see that as a good thing. We all need protection from the government sometimes.

3:06 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

I've been doing a lot of funny "creative misreading" lately -- I'll see a word out of the corner of my eye and jump to the wrong conclusion about what it says. Here's how I read your last sentence:

"In fact, I’m glad we’re finally unzipping our security system in ways that may actually make us safer."

3:50 PM  
Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...


I wonder if computer programs would perform better than a human eye in determining what objects may or may not be threats. I'd be worried about too many false positives that lead to more invasive searches of innocent travelers.

Security, particularly airline security is a fascinating convergence point of privacy rights and security necessities. How much searching is too much searching? And what constitutes "unreasonable." Not questions to be taken lightly. But, in this instance, I'd much prefer these machines to universal pat downs ... which is the next step if another attack or even another uncovered plot happens.

4:04 PM  

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