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We Do NOT Have All the Same Body Parts and Body Scanners Violates Your Privacy

It is time to turn up the privacy!

It is time to improve privacy!

I haven’t been able to talk about body scanners for a while and it is about time I bring them up again. When I blog about them or am doing research, I constantly see the same argument, “What’s the big deal, we all have the same parts, get over it.”

The thing is we are not all the same and even if we are, we still have a right to privacy. With my obvious dis-like (maybe that is too nice of a word) for the body scanners, I get people who write me in support and calling me  fool. Recently I had a woman write me who is  a pre-operative transsexual, meaning she self-defines as a woman, but still has male genitalia. It is absolutely her right to keep her situation private and no one should have the ability to invade her privacy. Talking about privacy, I will call her “Jane” to keep her anonymous for this blog.

I asked Jane what it is like being asked to go through a body scanner and she told me, “that having to go through a body scanner would be particularly difficult for me as the body scanners actually reveal a person’s gender. ” She also explained it becomes even more difficult because she has, “anxiety which makes the thought of using these even more difficult.”

Jane lives in the UK and unlike in the US, passengers cannot opt-out of body scanners. If you get “randomly selected” , you must be scanned or you don’t fly.

Another argument people often use is, “if you don’t like it, don’t fly then.” There are so many reasons why this argument is weak. If you don’t agree with something, you should stand up for what you think is right and try to change the system.

Jane told me she doesn’t fly as much now due to the fear and has missed out on some very important life experiences. “I have relatives in India who I would like to see again and would also like to travel to India to pay my respects to relatives who have died but feel unable to pass through an airport whilst passing through a body scanner is a condition to boarding my flight,” Jane explained.

We are a global society and need to allow people to fly around the world to continue to grow and prosper. We should not become  society that violates a person’s privacy, so passengers can get a false sense of security that the body scanners provide.

Trans-gender fliers, disabled passengers, folks with body issues and those that have gone through a traumatic experience involving their body should not have to endure invasive security to be able to function in our society. Is giving up your privacy worth the false sense of security you get going through body scanners? I say absolutely not.

44 comments to We Do NOT Have All the Same Body Parts and Body Scanners Violates Your Privacy

  • Anna

    I couldn’t agree more!

  • Wimpie

    I would like to congratulate the Talaban and Al- Quada on another smashing victory against Freedom, democracy, and the constitution!

    Ooops! my mistake!

    I would like to congratulate the U.S. Government on it’s smashing victory against freedom, democracy, and the constitution!

    It’s getting hard to tell who is who anymore!

  • Justin

    Hey just wanted to say that I support you 100% on the body scanners. There is absolutely no need for these and a simpler (and probally inexpensive) method is definetly out there to solve this problem.

  • Frank V

    One of the other challenges that “Jane” would face is that once you start the screening process, TSA will not allow you to back out. So “Jane” does not have the option of not flying if selected for secondary screening.

    If you have pre-teen children, there is now evidence that suggests that TSA screeners will try and force the pre teens into a scanner, perhap so their co-workers can get their jollies.

    We’ve also seen a recent case where parents were forceably separated from their child (who is a severe trauma victim) just so the child could be scanned — resulting in long-term emotional problems for the child.

    TSA has done more to shred the constitution than any other Federal agency in history. TSA’s attitude is that they are always rights, even when they are wrong they are right, and that the passengers need to just shut up, go through their fancy machines, and not raise a ruckus.

    There are even reports of passengers, when asking for a TSA supervisor, have been told they are causing a disturbance and threatened with arrest.

    In one instance, the TSA forced a local airport to hire a conficted felon. In another instance, a TSA worker who brought a firearm to work and bypassed security to bring the firearm into the secure area remains on the job.

    This is a dangerous, dangerous organization led by a political hack.

    Ask me how I really feel.

    • Hey Frank!

      Thanks for your opinions. In the US, you actually do have the ability to opt-out of being scanned. The problem is #1 most passengers don’t know what the body scanners really do and #2 they don’t know they can opt-out of being scanned.

      David

      • Frank V

        You are, of course, correct. The point I was ineloquently making was that once you begin the screening process, you cannot back out — you must complete the screening.

  • Laura

    I agree with these new security measures. Drastic threats call for drastic measures. I think it should be more carefull regulated, particularly with minors. I wouldn’t mind going through this procudure at all… I don’t see the harm in it if it is properly executed. This includes treating all passengers equally, no matter what their genetalia may consist of.

    • Laura,

      What about the ability for passengers to opt-out of the body scanners and totally being able to avoid them here in the US? Doesn’t that completely contradict they effectiveness?

      I agree that threats should be dealt with properly, but they should have real effectiveness and not just spending millions to make people feel more secure.

      And you assume that they will be properly executed. We have already heard quite a few stories of the body scanners being abused by TSA personal.

      Then there is the child argument. Would you want a stranger in a room looking at your child’s image?

      We aren’t ever going to be 100% secure. That is just the way of life. We can do things to make us more secure, but it should not be at the expense of individual freedoms and privacy.

      David

  • Brian

    Unfortunately the Christmas/underwear bomber is to blame for this. Medical detectors would not/did not detect this device. Had it blown up, the loss of life would be devastating. If you opt out in the U.S., you are subject to very invasive hand search of the groin and buttocks which might be much more traumatic for Jane and others.

    I’m not sure how it is set up overseas but in the States the person who sees the scanned image is not in the immediate screening area. They radio back to the TSA agents to inform them of the result. Having been through it a dozen times, I find it rather harmless.

    For those who object, I’m curious to hear your ideas to prevent non-metalic bombs from getting onboard.

    • Thanks Brian for your comments!

      If a person but an explosive device in their body cavity, no scanner is going to pick up on that. If there is a will, there is a way. There is a constant risk when flying that you might die from either a crash or terrorist attack. However, there are more threats of dying from using other forms of transportation. We need to be smart about our security and not waste lots of money on technology that violates privacy and mostly just makes people only feel safe about flying.

      You don’t know what that person is doing with your images. Yes, they don’t save, but what stops them from taking photos of the screen? How about children going through the scanners?

      I feel the body scanners are nothing but security theater and do not make us actually safer, just make us feel safer.

      David

    • Wimpie

      If you have been through the scanners a dozen times, you have accumulated a significant amount of X-Ray radiation, which is very clearly harmful. The ACTUAL dose delivered by these machines is the subject of debate, but it is CERTAINLY HIGHER than TSA is telling us, maybe 20-100 times higher.
      Read this important letter by 4 eminent scientists:

      http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf

      Particularly scary for young people and pregnant women.

      • Scott

        If you have FLOWN a dozen times, you have accumulated a significant amount of X-Ray radition. The EPA estimates that the amount of cosmic radiation a person receives during a typical cross-country flight far exceeds what they would be exposed to during a TSA scan.

  • Raul

    Well I agree about the scanners been a little invation of privacy. But about your friend Jane, she (or he) is pre-operative, meaning as far as I research all her IDs still said male not female. Until she doesn’t get the operation and show prove of it to the demographic registry, she can’t change her sex in IDs. If she gets cought in the female bathroom at the airport she will be in a lot of trouble. So, even if she doesn’t want to go through the scanners TSA will know she is a man and not a woman because of her ID, which everyone have to show to security regarding of gender, ethnicity, disability, etc.
    Also I talked to my uncle who is a lawyer and he tells me that in the future everyone will have to go through scanners (like it or not) because govermentwise national security worth more than the right to privacy. So, at the end if the goverment decide that everyone will have to go through scanners the only way you can avoid them is not to fly.

    • Hello Raul!

      Thanks for your comments. I tend to care less how a government wants to define a person vesus how they self identify (that is another discussion though). The point is, it shouldn’t matter what parts you have, it is still an invasion of privacy. If someone is missing a breast from cancer, has a third testicle or is trans-gender, it is their right to keep that private and some TSA agent, even in a booth, shouldn’t have the right to know.

      The fight for privacy vs security has been going on since the foundation of our country. I like to think with making our voices heard and talking to the people who make these decisions, that we can make sure body scanners are never required.

      David

  • Rita

    The people who wouldn’t mind a pat down are the lonely ones.

  • Wimpie

    Janet Napolitano, John Pistole and many of our legislators can’t understand why frequent fliers are concerned about the cancer risk from the x-ray scanners?

    Maybe somebody needs to tell them that intentional radiation exposure to large population groups will create a public health hazard. Especially when the dose has been miscalculated and we don’t yet know how much, but it’s higher than advertised. SOME people will die as a result. There IS NO QUESTION.

    Maybe somebody needs to tell them they don’t want their ourselves, our kids/wives/girlfriends exposed naked to some stranger or group of strangers in the back room, and maybe stored or transmitted (we aren’t allowed to know)

    Maybe somebody needs to tell them that a growing number of people fear the TSA more than they fear terrorists.

    Maybe someone should tell them that airport strip searches and massive pat-downs are a form of terrorism?

    This is over-the-top hysteria to a infinitesimally small threat, that they are highly UNLIKELY to prevent.

    Americans are being deceived by THEIR government.

    What happened to America? How did it become a nation of Wimps?

  • Temo

    Hello Airline Reporter. Once again I will reiterate my stance on these body scanners. I am completely against them. And once again, I will share that my 7 year old daughter and I were recently travelling and she was “randomly” selected by a gentleman behind the screen. Without reading your previous post, I completely disagreed and told them that she was not going in there and ordered them to please bring a female TSA agent to pat her down and I said something to the likes of “that thing is disgusting” to the female agent. To which she replied nothing.

  • Scott

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t get it.

    If “Jane” were to enter a body scanner, the TSO viewing the image would not have a clue who she/he is. Even if the image revealed that the person was pre-operative transgender, there would be NO connection between the fuzzy image on the screen and the person whom is pictured, so no connection can be drawn between the two.

    The situation is no different than a visit to a radiology lab. When a parent must take their child in for a body scan due to medical reasons, I have never heard complaints or concerns that the technician doing the scan might be “getting his/her jollies” from the image. And, in most cases, the medical-quality scan images are a LOT more revealing than those produced by the TSA scanners.

    The privacy issues just don’t exist in the way you, and others, continue to insist that they do.

    • Hello Scott!

      You bring up some very good points. To me, it is not just one thing, but the combination of things that bother me about the scanners.

      First off with the privacy, it does matter to me if there is still a disconnect between the passenger and person viewing the image. Would it be ok to put a photo of your naked body with face blurred out online for people to see? You don’t know who is looking at them and they don’t know you, but doesn’t mean you want them seeing it. There is also the issue with people that have been raped or abused. It can be very traumatic for them knowing someone is viewing their naked body, even if they don’t know them. Or the idea that the image will be saved (via a outside camera) or people are snickering in their “distant” location.

      I don’t feel the threat is out there large enough to have people give up their rights to privacy to go through the body scanners. I think privacy is…well a very private issue. Where you and me might have no problem standing naked in front of TSA to inspect us, we should be mindful that not everyone feels the same way.

      David

      • Scott

        David,

        I respect your opinion, but you continue to come back to the same misrepresentation that a TSA scanner equates to “standing naked in front of TSA to inspect us”. By your own admission, it does not, as you conceed that there is a disconnect between the passenger and the person viewing the image. I have a BIG problem if I were asked to strip naked before a TSO. But, by submitting to a scan, I am doing no such thing — not even close.

        To answer your question: Would it be ok to put a photo of your naked body with face blurred out online for people to see? My answer is: Why not? Who cares? If they don’t know it’s you — and they have taken steps that avoid any chance of identifying you by the image — what could possibly be the problem with someone seeing it? Let’s especially keep in mind that the images available via these scanners are low-resolution that barely make out more than an outline.

        Don’t get me wrong — I’m not suggesting that scanner actually improve security or are effective at doing so. That’s a separate issue. I just don’t see the harm in them. I don’t understand what we’re “giving up” by going through them.

        • I see where you are coming from for sure. I personally would have an issue knowing even a fuzzed out image of my body is floating around the internet for people to see.

          I also know that for people like Jane and others, it doesn’t matter if there is a disconnect. Just knowing that someone is seeing your body like that can be very emotionally disturbing. I know a lot of parents have problems knowing a stranger is looking at their child. You are correct that doctors and technicians might see the same and better images, but it is being done for the greater good of the child’s health.

          A parent should be able to choose for themselves if a scanner is for the great good of security to have their child go through (which luckily they do have that choice for now).

          I do like what I see in the future. The possibility that no one would see these even fuzzy image of people’s bodies. It would be a cartoon-like stick figure that would indicate if there was an item of interest and then the person would be pulled aside for additional screening.

          But of course, I dis-like the scanners for more reasons than just privacy. If they were truly effective and didn’t have these side effects, I would be more likely to not be as concerned with the privacy issues.

          David

          • Scott

            Look, I really don’t mean to beat a dead horse here… but this issue receives a lot of what I believe to be “misrepresenting” and I feel strongly that the truth needs to be clarified. I’m certainly capable of agreeing to disagree with your, Jane, or anyone’s premise… but this case appears to be one of faulty logic.

            A parent does not have to fly with their child any more than they have to have a medical test. In fact, the consequence of not flying is significantly LESS than not having a potentially life-saving medical scan. So, the “parental choice” comparison is just not apt.

            When you suggest that ” also know that for people like Jane and others, it doesn’t matter if there is a disconnect. Just knowing that someone is seeing your body like that can be very emotionally disturbing. I know a lot of parents have problems knowing a stranger is looking at their child.”… I am sure you are correct. But that doesn’t make their belief rational. There are people who believe they are entitled to things and thus steal them — does that make their actions right? These feelings may be very real, but emotional decisions make for lousy policy — in the same way that the post 9/11 “fear” led to some pretty lousy security policy.

            Decisions about national security should be made based upon rational logic, not personal preference. The plain truth is that there is NO violation of privacy if one’s image is disconnected from his/her identity — even if that still makes a person “uncomfortable”.

            • One of the reasons I love this topic so much is because it is controversial and I can see both sides of the argument :).

              It comes down to, how much is someone willing to give up for the idea of security and keeping air travel something accessible to most people?

              I think we do disagree about if there is a violation of privacy and we both are able to have those opinions. Right now, my opinion is losing, since these body scanners are continuing to be installed in airports around the world! However it seems like we can both agree maybe that this money shouldn’t be spent on this technology and might be used better for keeping us safe while flying?!

              David

            • Wimpie

              This is not a national security issue, it is an issue of control of the masses and mass hysteria.

              These scanners WILL NOT improve security, but will only make TSA more complacent, while things continue to slip through as always, and serious bad actors will just use body cavities to secret things, as convicts often do.
              They will never have enough of these scanners to scan every passenger, because of their speed and cost, so many passengers will get less screening. They will also make the lines longer at security.

              The X-Ray implications may be profound, and cause 100’s or 1000’s of cancers. Read this:
              http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf

              As for privacy, don’t forget that there is no real way to validate what level of scanning is being done by the TSA. Example images on placards at the airport only show what the government want normal people and potential terrorists to see. If terrorists knew exactly how much scanning was occurring, they could adapt likewise.

              Therefore, it is implausible to expect the TSA to be honest about how high the scanning level is set. In effect, the TSA will feed the general public propaganda to stop the enemy from being more diligent in their stealth.

              Nice, eh – considering this was the state of the art 4 years ago:
              http://rupture.co.uk/Terminal%204.html

            • Wimpie

              Scott, How long have you been working for TSA?

    • Alex

      Scott, I wonder if there really CAN be a true disconnect between image and passenger. What if they did see something like a plastic explosive? There would have to be a way to identify who was the one who had it. Even if the person viewing the image has no access to the people going through the machine, they still have to have a way to identify to the TSA officers by the scanner who had what, otherwise it would be completely ineffective. So it would be an easy matter for them to signal to each other “hey that person is trans”. Given the amount of harassment transpeople have endured from airline officials and other authority figures, don’t you think this possibility is a serious concern?

      • Scott

        Having had the opportunity to personally observe the TSA ATI screening operation (not while actual travelers were being screened, of course), I can honestly say that TSA has developed a pretty tight system of disconnecting the “image screeners” from the agent physically screening the traveler. When an image reveals something of potential concern, the screener in a remote location viewing the image communicates by radio to the TSO at the checkpoint simply with the location and description of what concerns them on the screen. The radio communication is monitored by at least one additional supervisor, etc. No cell phones, cameras, etc., are allowed inside the room where TSO’s monitor the images from the scanners. But… all of this procedure is clearly outlined at http://www.tsa.gov, along with sample images.

        That said, is it possible that TSOs could conspire to devise some sort of “code” to use on the radio allowing the TSO watching the scanner images to “tip off” the TSO at the checkpoint that a person is transgener, etc.? Yes. But, that’s a people problem — not a problem with the scanners. If we were to abandon technology simply because of the potential for some wrongdoer to misuse it, just image what we wouldn’t have today (the computer I’m typing on, for one thing). Plus, misbehavior by TSA personnel is a red herring in this discussion because the introduction of ATI scanners doesn’t really introduce anything new to that problem… even without the issue of ATI scanners, what’s to stop TSA screeners from making lewd comments to travelers about the items they see inside their carry-on bags? That’s a real potential concern — but it is a separate issue from the application of ATI scanners.

  • Scott

    I think we do disagree about if there is a violation of privacy and we both are able to have those opinions.

    Where we disagree appears to be that I do not view this matter as subjective. That allowing a professional, sworn TSO to see an image of a person’s body without the capability of connecting the image to their identity does not constitute a violation of privacy is a matter of FACT — not opinion.

    However it seems like we can both agree maybe that this money shouldn’t be spent on this technology and might be used better for keeping us safe while flying?!

    Yes, we may certainly can agree there :)

  • I clearly remember one of the selling points of body scanners is that they were quicker and required less man power. So far I’ve only been to one airport equipped with body scanners, Kansas City International and can say with 100% certainty that neither claim is true. The model used at MCI requires you to stand in place for a forward scan which takes 3-5 seconds, do a 180 and repeat. Even after most folks I watched ended up with a pat down. There are plenty of potential positive talking points for scanners, efficiency / cost savings and manpower reduction certainly do NOT apply.

  • Wimpie

    Disturbing new report out of Boston. Particularly worrisome for frequent travelers and other refuseniks:

    http://www.bostonherald.com/business/general/view/20100821new_logan_searches_blasted_tsa_tests_frisky_frisking_policy/srvc=home&position=0

    Better start wearing a cup!

  • Dave

    I am sorry to say that you are all missing the point with this particular blog. What if someone has say a prosthetic testicle due to cancer, traumatic injury or congential condition etc? Well, that will be visible on the scans, will be treated as a potential threat object ( bomb ) and that person will face further humiliating and degrading searches of their genitals. They will obviously then be IDENTIFIED. They will lose ALL their privacy. Some people might say so what because it does not affect them. Everybody deserves privacy and dignity.

  • “Advanced Imaging Technology” is a euphemism created to make people think they are getting “scanned.” No one is getting “scanned” — they are getting strip searched.

    The fundamental privacy issue is whether our government has the right to make strip searches routine and mandatory.

    There is no question that these machines violate the 4th Amendment.

    There are also health issues. Researchers are already coming out saying that the machines aren’t safe and could cause cancer.

    Please check out the brochure at:
    http://www.nudeoscope.com
    http://dontscan.us
    http://dontscan.me

    and join us on Facebook
    All Facebook Against Airport Full Body Scanners
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=239458517874

    and join in on Flyertalk.com
    Organized resistance to WBI/invasive patdowns
    http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/travel-safety-security/1119548-organized-resistance-wbi-invasive-patdowns.html

    HELP PUT A STOP TO THE TYRANNY!

  • Dave

    If Scott believes these scanners are not privacy invasive let me point him to the what the naked scanners ACTUALLY are capable of. If you look on the Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) site and their litigation documents against the DHS and the TSA you will see detailed information on what these scanners can see. The Procurement Specifications and Operating Requirements state quite clearly:
    ‘WBI shall provide TEN selectable levels of privacy’. This means that the scanner operative can chose whether to view somone at level 1 – no privacy at all, with photo-quality images, or level 10 – some privacy afforded by filters – what the TSA shows on their site. Which level do we think the operators will chose?
    The scanners can zoom 1x to 4x to look at gentitals in extreme and close-up detail.
    ‘The WBI shall provide image filters to protect the IDENTITY, modesty and PRIVACY of the passenger. Enabling and DISABLING of image filtering shall be MODIFIABLE by users’. This is clear enough, operators can switch off privacy filters whenever they like, enabling them to clearly INDENTIFY passengers, and STRIPPING them of ALL privacy.
    The TSA has been forced to release this information under the Freedom of Information Act. Most people are unaware of it and therefore believe all the TSA LIES. Look for yourselves if you do not believe me.

  • […] Costing a fortune, invading our privacy and making people feel safer about flying. I haven’t been a fan of them since the get-go and now my home town airport has […]

  • anonymous

    Well, I am a tall woman with Marfans syndrome. Thus, although people describe me as beautiful, my features are unconventional, I have long slender hands and a long wingspan. Thus, often people notice and because Marfans is not well known, they wonder if I may be a transsexual or something. Yes, don’t laugh. It’s true. Nonetheless, one day while traveling alone, I was selected ”randomly” to go through the body image scanner. I’m pretty sure, they were not searching for bombs, either. To their freakish dismay, I was nothing but an ordinary woman.

  • Skip Cashwell

    Well, there are several alternatives:
    1 – Pack yourself in a box & go via FedEx
    2 – Bribe a plane service worker to give up uniform & security card & just stay on the plane in the BR

    or

    3 – fly via private, charter air – no scan, feel-up or TSA there at all!

  • Andre

    I’ve noticed something that need to be brought up regarding trans passengers…

    Currently, the US permits transpeople to change the sex on their passports without full genital surgery, for both financial reasons (try saving up 20 000$-100 000$ for a non-covered procedure, whilst also battling intense job hiring and pay discrimination), and because the current options for female-to-male genital surgery leave a lot to be desired, in both look and function. It’s simply unfair to require people to shell out 50 grand for a surgery many feel to be mediocre at best in order to have a passport gender marker that matches their face.

    That to say that it’s quite possible that, for example, a standardly male-looking individual with “M” marked on the passport could step into the scanner and be revealed to have female genitals. If the person viewing the images genuinely doesn’t know what name goes with what body, it’s possible that he or she may say something as innocently-intended as “She’s clear”, and get said transman into an insanely awkward position. At best, this would cause confusion. At worst, with the power TSA agents wield, there’s no ruling out some bad apple could decide to make things as difficult as possible for the “immoral tranny”.
    Hell, imagine the chances of that happening if, God forbid, said transman had to travel to Saudi Arabia, Uganda, or some other country with a highly questionable human rights track record.

    That said, there’s also situations where the transperson may have had the “top surgery” (breast augmentation or removal) done, but not the “bottom surgery” (genital surgery). I think there’s a lot of potential for abuse if somebody were to see a body scan with both breasts and a penis. It’s not even necessarily that this person might be pulled aside for more questioning (though she likely will). I mean, if anybody’s image is going to be illegally saved and reproduced, it’s going to be people with unusual bodies. Transpeople, people with deformities, people with catheters or other personal medical gear, little people, the unusually heavy, breast cancer survivors with prosthetics… the list goes on. It’s not just a problem for specifically transpeople.

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