Last May I wrote a post called Just One of Thousands of Reasons Why I’ll Never Fly Again. Now, I have three more reasons: 1) whole body scanning machines, 2) diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging or DEXI scanners, and–are you ready for this? 3) mind-reading scanners.
WHOLE BODY SCANNING MACHINES
in the wake of the panic over the foiled underwear bombing attempt on Christmas Day in Detroit, the U.S. government is now pushing for more full body scanners in both U.S. and foreign airports. According to this website, “Security Management,”
Already, the British, French, Dutch, and Nigerian governments say they will embrace the technology, which allows operators to peer underneath a passenger’s clothes and identify hidden threats on their body. The European Union, which overwhelmingly said no to the technology in 2008, is reconsidering its position post-Detroit, reports The Christian Science Monitor. And yesterday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said her department will accelerate the deployment of whole body imaging technology at U.S. airports. There are already about 40 machines deployed at certain airports nationwide, but Napolitano said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will fast track at least another 300 units into the field this year.
The people who are pushing these machines say there should be no concerns about privacy, because the images only show outlines of the body and the face is blurred. However, I’d say from the example at the top of this post that the images are pretty detailed. According to the U.K. Guardian,
The full-body scanner on trial at Manchester airport consists of two Tardis-like blue boxes that passengers stand between and produces a ghostly naked image with curves and genitals eerily visible….
Earlier this week privacy campaigners said that the images were so graphic they amounted to “virtual strip-searching” and called for safeguards to protect passengers’ privacy.
Staff at Manchester airport pointed out that the images were deleted “within seconds” of being captured and checked and could not be stored.
The Guardian story and many of the articles on the body scanners mention that only “Muslim women” and people wearing adult diapers and colostomy bags are likely to be concerned about privacy issues. Are you kidding me? There is no frickin’ way I’d ever do it. Who controls whether the images are deleted or not? I don’t believe for one minute that these images can’t be saved and sent over the internet. And sure enough, it turns out I was right.
A privacy group says the Transportation Security Administration is misleading the public with claims that full-body scanners at airports cannot store or send their graphic images.
The TSA specified in 2008 documents that the machines must have image storage and sending abilities, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said.
In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in “test mode.”
That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines — which can see beneath people’s clothing — can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.
Privacy advocates do strongly oppose the use of these devices, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“We don’t need to look at naked 8-year-olds and grandmothers to secure airplanes,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said Friday. “Are we really going to subject 2 million people per day to that? I think it’s a false argument to say we have to give up all of our personal privacy in order to have security.”
A conservative freshman in the House, Chaffetz won a large, bipartisan majority last year for an amendment to oppose the government’s use of body-image scanners as the primary screening system for air travelers. He was joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, which said the scanners are the equivalent of a “virtual strip search.”
Unfortunately, the Senate rejected Chaffetz’ amendment. And the TSA is very frustrated about all these concerns about privacy.
“They significantly enhance security because they can detect metallic and nonmetallic items hidden under clothing,” said Greg Soule, a TSA spokesman.
He also suggested that the privacy concerns are exaggerated. “It is 100 percent optional for all passengers,” he said. “They can choose to be screened with a full-body pat-down.”
Moreover, the screener who observes the passenger’s body image is “in a remote location” and cannot see the individual’s face, he said. And the body image itself “looks like a chalk etching of a passenger.”
Chaffetz disputes that point. “It is a whole body image, and they can spin it 360 degrees. And they can zoom in and see something as small as a nickel or dime,” he said. “But they can’t spot something hidden in a body cavity. A good, old-fashioned sniffing dog is more effective.”
GOING EVEN DEEPER: DEXI TECHNOLOGY
One of the big drawbacks to the whole body-scanning devices is that they cannot see whether a person has hidden something in a body cavity. But don’t worry, there are machines that can do that too–the diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging, or DEXI scanning devices I mentioned earlier. According to this story at the Danger Room Blog at Wired Magazine, Crack New Scanner Looks for Bombs Inside Body Cavities (I assume the pun is intended),
Nesch, a company based in Crown Point, Indiana, may have a solution. It’s called diffraction-enhanced X-ray imaging or DEXI, which employs proprietary diffraction enhanced imaging and multiple image radiography (.pdf).
Rather than simply shining X-rays through the subject and looking at the amount that passes through (like a conventional X-ray machine), DEXI analyzes the X-rays that are scattered or refracted by soft tissue or other low-density material. Conventional X-rays show little more than the skeleton, but the new technique can reveal far more, which makes it useful for both medical and security applications.
“Our patented technology can detect substances such as explosive materials, narcotics, and low-density plastics hidden inside or outside of the human body,” company CEO Ivan Nesch claims. DEXI allows explosives to create contrast, he adds, so it would be able to detect both the underpants bomber and the shoe bomber before they boarded.
What about all the radiation that frequent fliers will be bombarded with between these machines and the radiation exposure from flying? The manufacturers and “government experts” say it’s no big deal. But this health site claims the radiation from body scanners can alter human DNA, citing the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the same source used in the CNN story linked above.
In order to generate the nude image of the human body, these machines emit terahertz photons — high-frequency energy “particles” that can pass through clothing and body tissue.
The manufacturers of such machines claim they are perfectly safe and present no health risks, but a study conducted by Boian S. Alexandrov (and colleagues) at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico showed that these terahertz waves could “…unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.”
According to M.I.T.’s Technology Review Magazine, these machines “tear apart” human DNA, yet the machines the TSA plans to use have not been tested or approved for human use by the FDA.
And now the final blow to privacy–mind-reading machines. It turns out the TSA is already funding them. An Israeli company, WeCU (read as “We see you”), has received two grants from the U.S. government to develop mind-reading machines.
The system … projects images onto airport screens, such as symbols associated with a certain terrorist group or some other image only a would-be terrorist would recognize, company CEO Ehud Givon said.
The logic is that people can’t help reacting, even if only subtly, to familiar images that suddenly appear in unfamiliar places. If you strolled through an airport and saw a picture of your mother, Givon explained, you couldn’t help but respond.
The reaction could be a darting of the eyes, an increased heartbeat, a nervous twitch or faster breathing, he said. The WeCU system would use humans to do some of the observing but would rely mostly on hidden cameras or sensors that can detect a slight rise in body temperature and heart rate.
According the story, WeCU has already developed a prototype of the machine which attracted the interest of government security “experts” from the U.S. and Germany as well as Israel.
“It sounds like science fiction,” WeCU CEO Ehud Givon told the Jerusalem Post. “But I can assure you that the technology is very real. We have accuracy rates that are higher than 95 percent.”
Other mind-reading systems rely on scanning facial movements and pupil dilation for involuntary reactions which indicate malicious motives. These mind-reading scanners would most likely be implemented in the near future for people pulled aside for searches, but could eventually be used as people pass through security checkpoints.
Gee, what could possibly go wrong? All I know is that I plan to stay out of Airplanes, and go to airports only to drop off or pick up people who don’t mind being having their bodies and minds X-rayed and scanned by Brave New World-type machines.
Filed under: Health, Human Rights, Politics Tagged: | ACLU, DEXI scanners, Electronic Privacy Information Center (ERIC), homeland security, mind-reading scanners, privacy, R-Utah, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Technology Review, terrorism, Transportation Safety Adminitration (TSA), whole body scanners