Well I’ve been meaning to post this for some time now and an email from a friend and Porch reader reminded me of it again. So this time I’m posting it while it’s on my mind. We keep hearing these ‘full body scanners’ that are now at the airports and federal buildings are harmless and the images can’t be saved. Well guess what…..that was a lie. Now we have recently also found out that images taken at a U.S. courthouse in Florida have been saved….35,000 of them. ….Sometimes celebrities are asked to autograph printed out images of themselves.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire” — Feds keep x-ray images
Ever since the federal government began deploying the new-fangled, full-body x-ray machines at airports and federal buildings to make us “safer,” Uncle Sam has been assuring us that the images of essentially naked bodies that the controversial machines take would not be recorded or stored. Well, surprise — it now turns out the government has been lying. The full-body x-ray machines not only do record the images they take of law-abiding citizens (and others) but also store the images.
As a result of efforts by private organizations — most notably the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) — to uncover the truth about the government’s use of these privacy-invasive devices, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the U.S. Marshals Service, have been forced to admit publicly that the machines in fact do exactly what the feds had assured us they would not do.
Even in the face of these recent revelations, the TSA continues to “assure” the public that despite the machines’ now-admitted ability to record and store image, the agency “turns off” this capability when it installs the machines. If anyone out there (other than government employees) believes this, please raise your hands. I didn’t think so.
Small wonder that the public’s trust in government (as measured, for example, in a recent survey by the non-partisan Ponemon Institute) is at an all-time low.
Full-Body Scan Technology Deployed In Street-Roving Vans
As the privacy controversy around full-body security scans begins to simmer, it’s worth noting that courthouses and airport security checkpoints aren’t the only places where backscatter x-ray vision is being deployed. The same technology, capable of seeing through clothes and walls, has also been rolling out on U.S. streets.
It would also seem to make the vans mobile versions of the same scanning technique that’s riled privacy advocates as it’s been deployed in airports around the country. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is currently suing the DHS to stop airport deployments of the backscatter scanners, which can reveal detailed images of human bodies. (Just how much detail became clear last May, when TSA employee Rolando Negrin was charged with assaulting a coworker who made jokes about the size of Negrin’s genitalia after Negrin received a full-body scan.)
“It’s no surprise that governments and vendors are very enthusiastic about [the vans],” says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. “But from a privacy perspective, it’s one of the most intrusive technologies conceivable.”
Though Reiss admits that the systems “to a large degree will penetrate clothing,” he points to the lack of features in images of humans like the one shown at right, far less detail than is obtained from the airport scans. “From a privacy standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to see what the concern or objection could be,” he says. But EPIC’s Rotenberg says that the scans, like those in the airport, potentially violate the fourth amendment. “Without a warrant, the government doesn’t have a right to peer beneath your clothes without probable cause,” he says. Even airport scans are typically used only as a secondary security measure, he points out. “If the scans can only be used in exceptional cases in airports, the idea that they can be used routinely on city streets is a very hard argument to make.”
The TSA’s official policy dictates that full-body scans must be viewed in a separate room from any guards dealing directly with subjects of the scans, and that the scanners won’t save any images. (We now know this is a lie…they do and are saving images.) Just what sort of safeguards might be in place for AS&E’s scanning vans isn’t clear, given that the company won’t reveal just which law enforcement agencies, organizations within the DHS, or foreign governments have purchased the equipment. Reiss says AS&E has customers on “all continents except Antarctica.”
Reiss adds that the vans do have the capability of storing images. “Sometimes customers need to save images for evidentiary reasons,” he says. “We do what our customers need.”