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July 12th, 2010
Freethought San Marcos: A nude awakening — How the government strips you naked

Freethought San Marcos: A column

It was mentioned in at least one 24-hour news cycle about three or so years ago, but a government practice that alarms many Americans has seeped into airport screening procedures nationwide since 2007, and may soon be back on the radar of all air travelers.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA), the folks that make you remove your belts and shoes at most airports before you go to a boarding area, has been making widespread use of full body scanners that produce a naked image of each person scanned. The x-ray screening is just powerful enough to see beneath your clothing, but not capable of scanning beneath your skin. We know the images are revealing because a TSA employee was disciplined for making a crude and embarrassing remark about the size of another employee’s genitalia after he was screened by one of the scanners in a training exercise.

Full body screening was tested first in Phoenix early in 2007, and starting in 2009 has been used at 19 airports in the US:

  • Albuquerque International Sunport Airport
  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
  • Denver International Airport
  • Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
  • Detroit Metro Airport
  • Indianapolis International Airport
  • Jacksonville International Airport
  • McCarran International Airport
  • Los Angeles International Airport
  • Miami International Airport
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport
  • Richmond International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport
  • Salt Lake City International Airport
  • Tampa International Airport
  • Tulsa International Airport

If Senators Klobuchar (D-MI) and Bennett (R-UT) have their way, full body scanners will be used in all US airports soon. They introduced a bill earlier in July, which is cleverly called the ‘‘Securing Aircraft From Explosives Responsibly: Advanced Imaging Recognition Act of 2010’’ or ‘‘SAFER AIR Act of 2010.’’ Now, who could be against “Safer Air” travel? But the acronym and name are deceptive.

The Klobuchar/Bennett bill will require that full body scanners be the primary screening technique at all US airports. While the bill provides for an alternative screening method for passengers with privacy concerns, such alternatives are not available at all times, depending on staffing and time constraints. The bill contains a weak privacy provision that ignores many of the problems with the devices already identified at the 19 airports currently employing the devices. Among those problems is the TSA requirement found in its specifications for the devices that they must have the ability to store, record, and transfer detailed nude images of air travelers.

This requirement leads to questions about the pornographic use of the images, including in child pornography. As someone involved with computers and the internet for the last twenty years, my experience leads me to conclude that there is little significant privacy on the internet. Once naked images of passengers are captured by government computers, I have no confidence that such images will be protected from disclosure, whether intentional or inadvertent by TSA, or by theft by a third party.

Other problems with full body scanners raised by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), Essential Information, the National Workrights Institute (NWI), Privacy Activism, and the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, among others, concern effectiveness of the machines, cost to the taxpayers, and safety and health risks to passengers.

According to expert information about the full body scanners made public in a report by the Center for Study of Responsive Law and the EPIC, questions about aviation security, radiation health, and privacy have not been resolved. According to the Center, scanners “can be easily defeated by concealing explosives in body cavities; the actual radiation health risks are unknown because no independent study has been undertaken; and privacy safeguards are unacceptable because the disabling of the machines’ ability to record and store naked images of passengers can be reactivated by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) whenever it wants.”

Legal problems have been raised as well by the same group of organizations that have questioned the scanners’ effectiveness, cost, safety, and invasion of privacy. They have charged that the “uniquely intrusive search” appears unreasonable (in the constitutional sense) and violates several sections of the US Constitution. The groups point out further that the use of the scanners also “fails to comply with several federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Administrative Procedures Act.” Many religious groups advocate proscriptions against immodesty in dress and behavior. Nude images definitely violate those proscriptions.

To combat these concerns, TSA mandates that passengers be given an alternative to the personally intrusive full body scanners. What is actually happening in airports, however, is that many passengers are directed to a scanner without being told that they can have a pat down security search instead. Many passengers object to scanning on religious grounds, and parents express concern about having their children subjected to scanning for reasons of both health and privacy.

Further evidence of TSA’s deception about the use of full body scanners is its promise that the machines would distort the faces of those scanned, but this promise was removed from the TSA website in April, 2007. On February 18, 2009, TSA announced that it would require passengers at six airports to submit to full body imaging in place of the standard metal detector search, a nullification of its earlier statements that such imaging would not be mandatory. On April 6, 2009, TSA announced its plans to expand the mandatory use of full body scanning to all airports.

An alternative to live monitoring of the scanner images is what is termed “auto-detection” scanning, a method that uses a computer program to detect any contraband, rather than viewing by a human being. This past spring, US Senators Collins, Kyl, and Chambliss urged Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano to consider using the “auto-detection” scanning devices, which are being used successfully in the Amsterdam airport. Such devices may allay some privacy concerns, but they will not address completely any of the issues that have been raised. Not least among these concerns is the failure of TSA to follow normal administrative practices, which would permit the public adequate time and opportunity to comment on the use of the full body scanners after a full description of their use and the rights of air travelers has been proposed in writing.

Meanwhile, if you are departing from one of the 19 airports currently using the scanners, you might ask for the copyright to the picture of your naked body so that if it appears in “Airport Scans of 2010-XXX,” you will have legal grounds to sue the film’s producer and maybe share in the profits of his government-inspired pornography project. Of course, if you’re an exhibitionist or nudist, you might willingly participate, but you really should avoid letting them use the naked images of your children. The government still prosecutes child pornography, even if it ignores your right to privacy.

© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins

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8 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: A nude awakening — How the government strips you naked

  1. Let me see if I have this right.

    2 million passengers per day (in the US only) for the past 9 years (since 9/11) equals about 6.5 BILLION passengers.

    One nut tries to blow up a plane with explosives in his underwear which failed. (BTW: You can’t put enough explosives in your underwear to down a plane) and now OUR GOVERNMENT wants to strip search or physically pat down all AMERICAN travelers at a cost of BILLIONS of dollars.

    Non-metallic weapons are bullsh**. Nobody can get in the cockpit anymore. Maybe they could harm another passenger? Is this a realistic threat?

    Nobody has been killed by terrorists on an American aircraft since 9/11!

    Also – TSA (or DfT) has never caught a terrorist – ever!

    Odds: 1 in 6.5 billion ? or less? the bombs didn’t work!
    Powerball 1 in 40 million?
    State lottery 1 in 14 million.

    I’m 465 times more likely to win the state lottery, than to be killed by terrorists on a plane!


    Billions to strip search Air Travelers?
    Teachers all over the country out of work?
    Cities & Towns going bankrupt?

    What about the 300,000 killed in car crashes in the same period?

    What’s wrong with this picture?

    Picture your family like this:
    or this:

    Print out a bunch of these to hand out in the airport security line!


  2. We have to try and prevent planes from being blown out of the sky. The choice is between looking for bombs and looking for bombers. There is no question that looking for bombs is expensive, ineffective and intrudes on everyone’s civil liberties. Looking for bombers is more effective and less expensive, but it seriously intrudes on the civil liberties of a few. It seems like society is more worried about the dangers of profiling than it is the loss of privacy to all, and I bet Lamar is too.

  3. I don’t recall ever writing about profiling, mostly because it’s proven difficult to define. If you know what I think about it, you know more than I know.

  4. Lamar we do know one thing. Nobody will ever post your naked scan or my naked scan on the Internet. I just don’t think either of us can compete with Paris Hilton. Just think what kind of person would be titillated by our nude image. EWW! Gross!

  5. To Charles:

    Agreed. One friend of mine said that he didn’t want the full body scan because the applause might embarrass him, but you and I might draw only laughter.

  6. I’m going to side with Wimpie and Benjamin Franklin on this.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to gain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

  7. X Ray is accumulative over a life time. The older we get the more X rays our bodies hold. Taking more and more radiation in lends itself to cancer invasions. Those of us who have worked with radioactive material, have been in radium mines or have had excessive amounts of radiation for one reason or another are particularly vulnerable to having some uninformed individual decide for us that more exposure to this is acceptable and healthy. Absolutely this goes too far and the unkown benefits are far from worth it.

  8. Lamar Hankins says:
    July 13, 2010 at 9:01 am

    I don’t recall ever writing about profiling…

    In his June 1st article, Lamar discussed Latino immigrants “victimized by racial profiling”.

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