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Witnessing train wrecks, one passenger at a time

January 11, 2010 - Rob Weaver
Following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s attempt to blow up an airliner Christmas Day, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would buy 300 body-scanning machines this year. That’s double the amount the government had planned to buy earlier.
There are some 40 full-body scanners already in use as part of a pilot program at 19 U.S. airports. The scanners also are being used in Europe, and I’d expect more will be added there, too -- along with some changes in policies and procedures.
The x-ray vision scanners, capable of seeing through clothing, already are in use at the Amsterdam airport where Abdulmutallab boarded the flight to Detroit. But the would-be suicide bomber never passed through one because, as a transit passenger with a connecting flight, he was subjected to another standard security check before boarding the plane to Detroit.
The Privacy Coalition, a network of groups that advocates for privacy rights, isn’t alone in objecting to the so-called strip-search scanners. The editorial-page cartoon accompanying this log entry sums up most air travelers’ concerns about full-body scans.
That image, I think, probably is the opposite of reality -- and you might agree if you ponder the reality of that image. First, the image the scanner transmits to the screen is far from a portrait-quality rendering. Second, consider the vast majority of people who would be scanned. If you haven’t been to an airport within memory, just watch the folks walking in and out of the mini-mart the next time you’re topping off the tank. How many would you want to see appear on your screen if you were a Transportation Security Administration worker? Could you even last 10 minutes on that job?
TSA screeners likely will have a difficult time getting unflattering images out of their mind. Air-traffic controllers might not have the most stressful job at the airport.


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