TECH

Full Body Scanners: At What Cost To Privacy?

Mar 18, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

At what cost to privacy?

That's the big question in everyone's mind following the attempted airline bombing on Christmas Day. Technology has given way to expensive, highly detailed and some argue unnecessarily intrusive full body scanners, now available for use in some 19 U.S. airports, including Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, Albuquerque, Dallas, Las Vegas, Washington D.C.'s Reagan airport and New York's Kennedy airport. Australia, to much fan-fare, began using the scanners last year. Around the same time, its implementation provoked a lot of discussion in Europe, most of it against using the high-tech machines.

But in light of more reports on how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid an "explosive device" and boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, some are calling for routine use of full body scanners in airports worldwide. The scanners, some argue, could have caught the six-inch packet of power and a liquid-containing syringe sewn into the 23-year-old Nigerian's underwear.

The Associated Press reported:

High-tech security scanners that might have prevented the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a jetliner have been installed in only a small number of airports around the world, in large part because of privacy concerns over the way the machines see through clothing.

The public reaction to the scanners have changed since last week's bomb scare, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Reporting from Paris, Robert Marquand of CSM wrote:

While many European authorities are not on board officially, a shift from "unacceptable" to "acceptable, provided the technology can be improved to protect modesty" is underway.

Early Wednesday, the Netherlands announced that it will promptly being using scanners for U.S.-bound flights, putting pressure on other cities to do the same. Yesterday, the Chicago Daily Herald wrote that the machines will be used sometime next year in Chicago's O'Hare International, one of the busiest airports in the world. Inevitably, attention falls to the Obama administration, which many say didn't react as swiftly and strongly as it should have shortly after the alleged attack. With congressional members demanding for increased usage of scanners, Reuters reported, President Obama "could expedite such a deployment because the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) don't need legislation from Congress to start using the devices at any of the 560 U.S. airports with scheduled airline service."

Currently, use of the scanners in U.S. airports is optional.

If online chatter is any indication, public opinion is mixed. For example, there's a Facebook group called "If O'Hare Airport requires full body scanners, I will refuse to fly there." The group has 6 members. Another group called "Full Body Scanners for All Canadian Airports" lists 8 members.

Should full-body scanners be used in all airports?

Here's a video of body scanners being used in Australia:

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