The naked body scanners are taking over.
When we first checked in on them two years ago, the scanners, which see through clothing, were being deployed at a single airport. A few months later, they were upgraded to millimeter-wave technology, which delivered similar images with even less radiation�”10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission,” according to the Transportation Security Administration. At the time, TSA assured us that the scanners would be used only as a “voluntary alternative” to “a more invasive physical pat-down during secondary screening.” Only a few passengers, the ones selected for extra scrutiny, would face the scanners. The rest of us could walk through the metal detectors and board our planes.
Surprise! Two months ago, TSA revised its position. It began testing millimeter-wave scans “in the place of the walk-through metal detector at six airports.” At these airports, everyone�not just people selected for secondary screening�would face the see-through machines. Anyone who objected would “undergo metal detector screening and a pat-down.” You might even get the “enhanced pat-down,” which includes “sensitive areas of the body that are often used by professional testers and terrorists,” such as “the breast and groin areas of females and the groin area of males.” Show us your body, or we’ll feel you up.
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Now the plan is going nationwide. Joe Sharkey of the New York Times reports that TSA “plans to replace the walk-through metal detectors at airport checkpoints with whole-body imaging machines�the kind that provide an image of the naked body.” All passengers will “go through the whole-body imager instead of the walk-through metal detector,” according to TSA’s chief technology officer, and the machines will begin operating soon after orders are placed this summer.
When the scanners first appeared, I endorsed them. When they were upgraded to millimeter-wave technology, I endorsed them again. I gave two reasons. One reason was that a scan was less invasive than a pat-down. The other reason was that TSA promised to blur your face and keep your scan private, so that nobody would ever connect your name to your revealed body. That, I argued, was a sufficient kind of privacy in the age of terrorism.