Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Airport security and privacy

Recent discussions of airport security in the post underpants-bomber era make it clear that privacy is a complex issue. For example, if an airport screener is going to see a digital image of what you look like under your clothes, is your privacy preserved better if the screener can't also see your face? If the screener is in a remote viewing room?

Debate Over Full-Body Scans vs. Invasion of Privacy Flares Anew After Incident
"The technology exists to reveal objects hidden under clothes at airport checkpoints, and many experts say it would have detected the explosive packet carried aboard the Detroit-bound flight last week. But it has been fought by privacy advocates who say it is too intrusive, leading to a newly intensified debate over the limits of security."
"But others say that the technology is no security panacea, and that its use should be carefully controlled because of the risks to privacy, including the potential for its ghostly naked images to show up on the Internet."
"“I’m on an airplane every three or four days; I want that plane to be as safe and secure as possible,” Mr. Chaffetz said. However, he added, “I don’t think anybody needs to see my 8-year-old naked in order to secure that airplane.” "
"Images produced by the machines in the days before privacy advocates began using phrases like “digital strip search” could be startlingly detailed. Machines used in airports today, however, protect privacy to a greater extent, said Kristin Lee, a spokeswoman for the T.S.A.
Depending on the specific technology used, faces might be obscured or bodies reduced to the equivalent of a chalk outline. Also, the person reviewing the images must be in a separate room and cannot see who is entering the scanner. The machines have been modified to make it impossible to store the images, Ms. Lee said, and the procedure “is always optional to all passengers.” Anyone who refuses to be scanned “will receive an equivalent screening”: a full pat-down."

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