Airport Body Scanners and Personal Privacy
Believe it or not, there was a time when passengers showed up an hour before their flights and walked directly to their assigned gates without taking off their shoes at a security screening station or throwing away their bottles of water. There was even a time when friends and family met passengers at the gate and watch their flights take off or land without having a ticket or identification…and that was only ten years ago. Air travel safety precautions changed dramatically after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that targeted passenger planes in the United States and killed well over 1,000 people. Precautions continue to evolve as new threats are detected and passengers are now concerned about where to draw the line with invasion of privacy versus national security, particularly with the introduction of the body scanners at security checkpoints. Flight passengers must accept the use of body scanners to ensure safe air travel for all.
In 2007, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began distributing body scanners to use at security checkpoints in airports. There was an instant outrage when people were told that the scanners produced images of passengers without clothing. As of September 2010, there were 200 body scanners at 50 airports in the United States with hundreds more to come (Stellin 2010). Disgruntled passengers have vehemently protested the invasion of privacy resulting from the body scan images. Passengers are equally angry with the alternative to the body scan: an intrusive, full-body pat-down that is more intimate than pat-downs of the past. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “The TSA has recently changed its guidelines and these pat-downs are now much more invasive. Screeners are now authorized to use the front of their hands and to touch areas around breasts and groins.” (2010). Women and men both liken the new pat-down regulations to sexual molestation and claim that it is not an acceptable option over having a naked body image scanned and viewed by a TSA agent. Holiday travelers were recently advised by independent groups to protest the body scanners’ invasion of privacy by insisting on having the pat-down alternative in public view so fellow travelers could see the invasive nature of the new procedures.
There are also concerns over the safety of the body scanners. There are currently two types of scanners: millimeter wave body scanners and backscatter scanners. The millimeter wave scanners use electromagnetic waves to create images, while the backscatter scanners emit low-levels of radiation that reflects off the skin to create the naked body image. (Frank 2010). Passengers are demanding to know the long-term effects of the radiation exposure required to capture the body images when using the backscatter scanners. Pilots are also up in arms over the new scanners and claim that the small amounts of radiation exposure increase the already high risk level of cancer seen in airline pilots. Knox claims that the U.S. Airline Pilots Association and the Allied Pilots Association are recommending that pilots refuse the body scanners and request a pat-down (2010).
Passengers are arguing that the privacy violations and increased radiation exposure that the body scanners are creating are not even relevant in the fight against terrorism, as most of the current security measures are reactionary. For example, in 2002, Richard Reid attempted to blow up a passenger plane by using a bomb in his shoe. Ever since then, passengers flying out of domestic airports are required to remove their shoes for scanning before clearing security. Security has not uncovered another shoe bombing since the incident. Another example is the 2006 terror plot discovered by British authorities. The plot involved a man who planned to detonate a bomb with liquid explosives and a MP3 player. In response to this threat, passengers were banned from...
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