Invasion of the Body Scanners
New airport X-Rays may be a useful way to detect hidden explosives—but officials will have to keep a tight rein on their use
by David H. Holtzman
Phoenix flyers will soon be the first travelers digitally stripped naked by a Transportation Security Agency (TSA) X-Ray machine that uses a technology called “backscatter.” The device bounces a low-intensity X-Ray beam off the target’s body and digitally analyzes and stores the returning signal, or backscatter.
Early on, the process generated a high-resolution picture that for all practical purposes was a nude photo of the target without hair, but including intimate details. The idea is that hidden bombs and guns will be readily detectable on a minimalist body image.
Although the technology isn’t new, the government’s scanner rollout announcement in December generated a great deal of controversy, split along the usual battle lines. Privacy advocates condemned the scanners as invasive; security enthusiasts insisted that it’s preferable to a pat-down.
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