Travelers, having endured the TSA's new full-body scanners, are now busily plotting their resistance. The devices, called Advanced Imaging Technology units, are intended to thwart passengers trying to conceal weapons stowed close to their bodies. They were probably not intended to outrage Americans, but they have. Critics say the scanners subject travelers to a "virtual strip search." On November 24th, opponents of AIT urge travelers to "opt-out," forcing TSA agents to give an embarrassing, time-consuming pat-down (men, preferably while wearing kilts). The point is to show the security administration just how ridiculous and invasive the concept of full body scanning is.
In response to the boisterous backlash, Amitai Etzioni, a George Washington University professor and author, has penned an essay in defense of the technology. In a New Republic contribution Etzioni argues that the actual threat by these scanners "has been inflated using sensationalistic imagery" and notes that new scanner software "replaces the realistic images of the passengers who are being scanned with a cartoon of a generic, clothed body."
Here's the professor's rationale:
As you can see, the images of passengers that actually appear on TSA screens are a far cry from the one circulated by civil liberties advocates, because the scanners are equipped with two kinds of privacy filters. One conceals the genitals and the other the face. (What's more, new scanner software replaces the realistic images of the passengers who are being scanned with a cartoon of a generic, clothed body, and marks areas that should be checked further. This software is currently being tested.) Further preserving privacy, TSA staffers who view the images are in a separate room and are unaware of the identity of the passenger who is screened.
Yet he still concedes that there is room for potential civil liberties infringements:
True, when we deal with millions of travelers, day in and day out, someone somewhere will cross the line. Thus, civil libertarians make much of the fact that a scanner in use in a Florida courthouse had stored over 35,000 images (although there is no evidence that anybody dispersed these images to people not authorized to review them). Yet efforts to flag such incidents should not distract us from the essential fact that these privacy violations are exceedingly rare and not necessarily damaging.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.