Virtually Nude

Bloggers pile on a British airport's revealing "virtual strip search" machine

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In an attempt to expedite and ease the airport security-check process, Manchester Airport in the UK is testing a new full-body scanner that captures graphic images of everything beneath passengers' clothes, including "breast enlargements, body piercings and a clear black-and-white outline of passengers' genitals." Independent Television News interviewed an airport spokesperson who defended the scanner as less intrusive than a hands-on pat down. Moreover, as Sarah Barrett explains, the resulting images are "not photographic, color[less], not pornographic, completely anonymous" and are immediately deleted after a single human operator evaluates them from a remote location.

Of course, this hasn't been enough to check the blogger backlash. Mingling privacy concerns with theatrical outrage, British bloggers are incensed:

  • The Last Straw The Guardin's Ariane Sherine says that the new scanner will only compound a highly stressful situation, heaping indignity and concern over one's body image onto an already dehumanizing security process. Objections that the process is easier and safer will not sway her: "When the scanners become ubiquitous, those of us who feel uneasy about them will no doubt be issued with the statement intoned by an unsettlingly large percentage of the population: 'If you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to fear.' We all have things to hide. That's why we wear clothes."
  • 'We're All Porn Stars Now,' shouts Scholars & Rogues blogger Gavin Chait  aka Whythawk. Chait ponders an extreme scenario, imagining what happens when the first scanner operator is caught "pleasuring himself while staring at ghost-like images of naked children." He also calls "bullshit" on the claim that deleting the captured images will prevent them from showing up on the internet: "Give that security guard a camera-phone; oh, wait, he has one already."
  • Watch It Take Off At the Times Live, a cynical Paul Ash hates the idea of the scanner but doesn't expect it to go away anytime soon, not given the public mentality. "What is truly amazing about this is how most of the world’s fear-stricken citizens will probably go along with the invasion of privacy, like so many bovines on the way to the chop house." Robert Jones says that the U.S. is up next: "The Transport Security Agency recently placed an order for 1,000 devices with Rapiscan Systems."
  • The Least of Our Worries  "Surveillance-society" blogger David Murakami Wood begins by chiding airport security for not figuring out by now that what's technologically possible is not always necessary, let alone advisable. However, he reminds readers the scans are voluntary, for now, and considers them a small concern in comparison to other, more malignant invasions of privacy: "Personally, I am rather less concerned about this rather abstract view of my body being seen briefly as I pass through an airport than I am about my financial details and personal life being traded between private companies, or about being under constant video surveillance in ordinary public space in the city."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.