Airport security device too revealing

A scan from the newly released ProVision whole body imaging machine.

Getty Images

A scan from the newly released ProVision whole body imaging machine.

On your average trip to catch a plane these days, you may encounter one or more of the following in the name of national security:

• A search of your bags.

• A search of your person via electronic wand.

• A search of your person via pat-down.

• A barefoot shuffle through a scanner while trying to hold up your beltless pants.

• An "invitation" to step inside a weird Star Trekkian "puffer" machine that blows air at you in order to sniff out traces of explosives.

All this before you even get on an actual plane to be gouged seven bucks for the privilege of a pillow.

But we wait patiently (for the most part anyway) through these procedures, even the ones that have started to seem a little silly, because we remember what it was like to be complacent and comfortable and even smug about how safe we were, and then suddenly weren't.

Comes a time, though, when you start to wonder if we've gone too far and given up too much, when "safety" starts to feel like we are surely being punked.

Witness the latest security tool expected to be up and running at Tampa International Airport in plenty of time for Super Bowl: body scanners that look under your clothes as you raise your hands, the images sent to another room where a Transportation Security Administration employee views you for hidden guns or other dangerous add-ons.

Say what you want about the clinical, professional, even robotic nature of the images. You're more or less naked.

ACLU types, and throw me in there on this one, liken this to a virtual strip search and a gross invasion of privacy. Images are detailed enough to show distinct and particular personal parts. Guys, this means you, too. A sample male photo supplied by the TSA might not see print in a family newspaper.

Some will call it un-American to protest. You don't mind? Good for you. Some of us do.

The machines are being tested on random passengers, or those who don't pass the first go-round of security checks. And certainly we all hope every person employed by the TSA is a consummate professional in a tough job. (Imagine dealing with grumpy, shoeless people all day.)

But the potential for abuse is obvious, even with reassurances about keeping the image-viewer separate from where passengers are scanned, and ensuring images will be deleted. ("Hey, it's George Clooney! Looking suspiciously like he needs to be randomly searched!")

We should be all for protecting against what got us here. But there's also staying leery of invasive, even humiliating, government measures, judging what's truly necessary and finding a balance. All of which sounds pretty American, too.

Airport security device too revealing 08/08/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2008 2:28pm]

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