I wish I was making this up. They’re called backscatters. Apparently the x-ray and puffer machines, as well as the metal detectors aren’t doing a sufficient job of detecting the dangers you may be trying to take on an airplane with you. What to do, what to do? I know, let’s check under their clothes.
So, what exactly is a backscatter? It’s basically an x-ray machine that can see right through your clothing. This technological advancement was manufactured by American Science and Engineering. It began its journey in prisons some nine years ago as a means of eliminating the need for strip searches. Apparently, this was preferred by prisoners because it made it possible for them to be searched without being touched. At this time, the only one operational at an airport is in Phoenix. The next lucky bunch to experience this backscatter will be people using airports in New York and Los Angeles. If you’re curious as to what this naked image of your body may look like, type Susan Hallowell into a Google image search. Ms. Hallowell runs the research laboratory for the Transportation Security Administration and volunteered to be the first to be seen by this device.
I suppose we could take a look at the reasons such a device might be necessary for airport security. Some of the ones I am personally coming across include liquid explosives and ceramic weapons, which are not easily picked up on traditional x-rays and metal detectors. The backscatter can detect any item of unusual density under your clothing, including drugs.
But, will this make Americans feel safer? Those who have been scared to fly since 9/11 may still be resistant when faced with the idea that their safety depends on their willingness to get electronically naked. Seriously, how easy is it to disrobe in front of the doctor you’ve been going to for years? So, how easy will it be to stand in an airport in front of their backscatter, knowing someone in another room is viewing a naked image of you? Only a dire emergency will get me through one of those things.
This technology is actually four years old. A few bumps in the road have prevented this device from making an appearance in most airports. One is radiation, which they are claiming is a “needless worry.” Another, is the privacy issue. The ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center have referred to these backscatters as a “virtual strip search.” I completely agree.
The fact that the monitors for these backscatters are separated from the checkpoint, making the staff who are viewing your “nakedness” unable to see you in person doesn’t make me feel better. The fact that black, white, brown, blue… whatever skin color you have, doesn’t show doesn’t make me feel better. The fact that an effort to blur the body parts that count doesn’t make me feel better.
What would make me feel better? Not seeing our freedom vanish before my eyes every time I turn. Am I realistic? Maybe not. Do I care? No.