Saturday, January 09, 2010

Scanners invade privacy & break child porn laws

Full body scanners are beginning to be rolled out in dozens of airports around the globe following the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack. However, while there are no doubt some benefits from the use of the devices, there are increasing concerns over privacy. Images obtained from both backscatter and millimetre wave scanners leave little to the imagination as they create high resolution images showing people as 'naked' [Prison Planet / Bild].

Reflecting either tetrawaves or low energy X-rays off the subject the images enable airport security personnel to see under people's clothes and determine if they are carrying weapons. While images published in the press appear unrealistic, by inverting them the person can be seen in full colour. Already some have raised concerns over whether the images may get into the hand of private individuals who might post them on the Internet. This despite reassurances from some authorities that the images would be deleted after being analysed. Britain has said those viewing the images would be screened for cameras before entering the viewing booths and that there was no way of downloading the pictures onto a flash memory card.

The image produced by the scanners could be deemed as pornographic by some, especially following a little Photoshop manipulation. These concerns have heightened worries over the scanning of those under the age of 18. In Britain there are specific laws which make it illegal to make a naked image or pseudo-naked-image of a minor. Genitals can be clearly seen and as such images of children would pose a temptation for those wishing to exploit their use. The Department for Transport has confirmed that the "child porn" problem was among the "legal and operational issues" now under discussion in Whitehall after Gordon Brown's announcement last Sunday that he wanted to see their "gradual" introduction at British airports. A 12-month trial at Manchester airport of scanners only went ahead last month after under-18s were exempted [Guardian]. 

Some Muslims have also raised their concerns saying they would like to be reassured images were only being scrutinised by female security personnel. In addition there are also health concerns over the use of the scanners. While the energy striking the subject is relatively small, there are worries repeated scans may increase health risks. But most of the debate has revolved around the graphic nature of the images. There have been many comments on bulletin boards concerning this issue, some descending into hilarity and sarcasm. 

"Excuse me if this has been asked before, but what happens if you go through a body scanner and you have an erection, will you be classed as breaking some sort of law," one Internet user asks on the website Digital Spy. One user sarcastically replies, "Just tell them you're not really pleased to see them, it's just a gun in your pocket. You'll be fine." Others retort with double entendres, suggesting he would receive "a stiff sentence" or "one month hard labour" while another said he may be directed "to the cockpit.."

Jokes aside, it has to be asked if security has gone a little too far, and whether it will really achieve what it is intended to do. In some ways the terrorists have won, given that civil liberties have been eroded and we are all under the watchful eye of 'Big Brother' with suspicion.

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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