Airport security has long been regarded as a necessary evil—remove the shoes, pull out the laptop, undo the belt…and on and on until you’re given the go ahead to board your flight and sail off into the atmosphere. But, while most are comfortable with stringent airport search methods, a new security device has people cringing—full body scanners. The Transport Safety Administration (TSA) is currently in the process of installing the devices in San Diego’s very own San Diego International Airport.
Each machine costs around $200,000 dollars, and screens for illicit drugs, metal objects, ceramic, etcetera. According to Rapiscan Systems, the machine’s supplier, a low energy backscatter x-ray beam is directed at an individual’s anterior and posterior, and the data the beam collects is then compiled into a computer, which is run by a government official. Therein lies the problem—while the scanners are undoubtedly powerful and able to locate dangerous materials and devices in an efficient manner, they also give airport officials the ability to essentially see underneath people’s clothing: the scans are detailed enough to identify a person’s gender. In addition, the beam is powerful enough to identify a passenger’s surgery scars, or to discern whether a woman is on her menstrual cycle or not.
While privacy groups are in an uproar, the TSA insists privacy is not an issue with the scanners—only one agent will be able to view the images, and that agent will be in an isolated area where he or she cannot have any contact with the passengers. In addition, the machine automatically deletes the digitally scanned images after a passenger passes through security.
The new technology will officially launch on Tuesday, August 31st, with a demonstration in Terminal 1 of the San Diego International Airport.
Photo from Marcin Wichary via flickr