What about the 4th amendment?

Lookout! Government peering at you with X-rays on highway

You won’t believe what’s inside that plain white van

X-ray machines now are mounted inside vans

A plain white van moving through traffic on a busy thoroughfare looks like a delivery vehicle, making a run to a local business.

It could be any plain white van in any American city.

But there are two men sitting in the back of the van operating X-ray machines. As their panel van moves in and out of traffic, the men use the X-ray machines to scan passing vehicles, peering behind the walls of the adjoining trucks to discover if the targets are carrying weapons, drugs or illegal immigrants.(WITHOUT WARRANTS OR PROBABLE CAUSE as called for by the Constitution. Remember what they said about the Full Body Scanners at airports? We can’t save the images!...Now we know they can save the images and have saved the images. One Florida court house saved 31,000 images.)

This scenario isn’t from a spy movie, it’s happening every day in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service and even local law enforcement agencies are buying and deploying mobile X-ray vans.

This particular technology allows a portable X-ray machine to drive around in what some critics say is “a seemingly normal delivery van,” but be able to conduct X-ray imaging tests, as reported by the company website, on “suspect vehicles and objects while the ZBV van drives past.”

Although literature about the machines says they aren’t invasive, privacy advocates aren’t buying that explanation. One reason is that the machines can also X-ray through clothing.

Electronic Privacy Information Center spokesman Marc Rotenberg says that no matter what claims are made about the vans, the machines in the vans are going to be used outside of their normal settings.

“Those questions are always there with mobile scanners. The key distinction is that were backscatter X-rays would most likely be in places like airports, and people would recognize their use,” Rotenberg stated.

“But in mobile units, it’s actually a concealed type of surveillance because the mobile backscatter device is used from inside a van and that’s a very different type of implementation,” Rotenberg explained.

Rotenberg says the machines could be effective weapons against potential adversaries if there are legal safeguards.

“The key point is not so much about regulating technology, but about regulating police practices in the use of the new technology,” Rotenberg observed.

“Based on what the Supreme Court has said in other similar cases, I think there has to be some probable cause or warrant before people are scanned without suspicion and when images are provided of what people look like without their clothes,” Rotenberg said.

Rotenberg also believes there should be limits on where the machines are deployed.

“They’ve been used in airports; they’ve been used in prisons. I think that’s worth keeping in mind. They’re also used in federal court houses. This is a new, and in military zones at security checkpoints, but the use of mobile scanners, this is new,” Rotenberg observed.

Rotenberg claims that there should be a question of the machine’s accuracy if the machines are mobile.

Rotenberg says the public is largely unaware that this technology exists.

“I don’t think the public is aware that this technology exists. And I think it’s something that requires some debate as this technology is considered for broader deployment,” Rotenberg stated.

He also believes the lack of coverage is due to the technology’s rapid developmental pace. However, he says his group EPIC is actively trying to make sure the technology is properly used.

“We have a series of open government requests. We are trying to make known to the public how the devices operate and what the privacy and health risks are. We’ve also formally petitioned to have the program suspended pending a formal review,” Rotenberg explained.

Rotenberg adds that his organization believes the federal government should wait until there are sufficient legal safeguards in place before the vans and other machines are used.

American Science and Engineering Vice President of Marketing Joe Reiss didn’t return any calls asking for comment.

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