February 24, 2007
Ok, so the xray photos on display in Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Arizona aren’t as revealing as the shot above (although this was a competing option) - in fact they claim that they’ve made the image look more like a cookie cutter, but with the gun still visible. Backscatter technology is now in production in Phoenix, and the move towards a top notch surveillance state has taken a great leap forward.
PHOENIX - The Phoenix airport on Friday became the first in the United States to test new X-ray technology that can see through people’s clothes and show the body’s contours with blush-inducing clarity.
Critics have said the high-resolution images created by the “backscatter” technology are too invasive. But the Transportation Security Administration adjusted the equipment so the pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still detecting concealed weapons.
During the testing, the machine will be used only as a back-up screening measure. Passengers who fail the standard screening with a metal detector will be able to choose between the new device or a pat-down search.
Cool - so the images the attendants see have been blurred to look cookie-cutter-like. Anyone wanna guess at whether or not the actual images can be saved by this machine? In looking at the feature set some of these backscatter machines have, it’s pretty darn clear that saving and analyzing images is a key selling point. Call me crazy, but I’m guessing its just a matter of months before we get a porno website marketing pictures from airports.
The real issue though is again this issue of security versus privacy. The US government clearly believes that infringements on privacy are minor annoyances at best. They look at individual point decisions to individual problems versus the trend over time. The Transportation Security Administration seems to be taking this approach, but also seems to realize the public is still skeptical to their safety overtures:
“Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive, and backscatter has potential to be a valuable tool in our layered security approach,” said TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. “There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we see how this technology works in the airport setting.”
It’s really nice that they want to continue the “dialogue” as if the public might have a role in this decision. The manufacturers of the backscatter technology used in Phoenix, AS&E, is clearly planning to go after border crossings next. The question though is once previous barriers to our privacy are now breached by the authorities, what’s to stop companies from doing similar things? Why wouldn’t they in fact? Isn’t the argument for going forward the same? Should we expect post offices to start scanning their facilities to stop customers and employees from going “postal”? In fact, other than the price of the systems, what stops the use of this technology anywhere?
Oh, and BTW, - Good news, New York and LA, you’re next!
TSA plans to expand the backscatter pilot later this year to JFK and LAX. There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we see how the technology works in the airport setting.