Scan Baby Scan
James Ridgeway of Mother Jones reports about the push to scan after the Christmas day underwear bomber.
The Nigerian man accused of trying to ignite explosives over Detroit Christmas day did not go through such a scanner in Amsterdam, where his flight originated.
He is believed to have tucked explosive powder in his underwear or trousers, which would have not set off metal detectors.
The question is whether high tech security scanners might have caught the man before he boarded the Northwest Airlines flight. The technology is used at 19 U.S. airports. Europeans have limited its use to test runs.
In the Dutch case, the full-body scan “could have been helpful in this case, absolutely,” said Evert van Zwol, head of the Dutch Pilots Association to MSNBC.
In June, 2009, the House voted 310-118 to prohibit whole-body imaging. Both Democrats and Republicans agreed in voting for the ban, largely over privacy issues.
But since Christmas, the Senate Homeland Security Committee has announced hearings and Joe Lieberman asked why whole-body scanning wasn’t in wider use.
Digital Strip Search
Known as “Digital Strip Search” machines, the full-body scanners use millimeter wave sensors of backscatter X-rays. They do not reveal anything hidden in body cavities. Tests in the UK find the machines unreliable in detecting plastics, chemicals, and liquids.
But that doesn’t matter, Mother Jones reports hundreds of machines at a cost of about $150,000 each, are on order.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who heads the Chertoff Group, represents leading manufacturers of the machines, Rapiscan Systems, something he did not reveal when promoting their use to the media, reports the Washington Post.
40 body scanners are in use at 19 U.S. airports and TSA reportedly purchased 150 machines from Rapiscan this summer. The cost - $25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.
Other lobbyists represent manufacturers, American Science & Engineering Inc., Smiths Detection, and L3 Systems, represented by former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Technology and Liberty Program has concerns about the scanners because they “see through your clothing and reveal the size and shape of your body.”
Full-body images are walled-off from public view and the officer viewing the image never sees the passenger. The machines do not store any image they produce. They would show details of your body and medical details such as whether you have a colostomy bag.
TSA says the scans will be used as a secondary screening and only for people on a “watch list.”
But will this latest wave of technology eventually go the way of technologies of the past?
TSA has largely abandoned the so called puffer machines” made by General Electric and Smiths Detection ($160,000 each) because they cost too much to maintain and regularly broke down in the presence of dirt and humidity.
Still, 18 are deployed around the U.S. at a cost to taxpayers of about $30 million. Only one-quarter of them were ever deployed at U.S. airports. #