Are Body Scans Better Than Background Checks?

The Dutch are introducing body scanners to scan all U.S.-bound passengers. Should we follow suit?

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The Netherlands and Nigeria will begin using body scanners in airports, adding a new chapter to a vibrant debate on air security and the use of millimeter-wave devices since the Christmas Day attempted bombing on Flight 253. Opponents of the technology have argued that the scans, which will show what resembles a photo negative of airline passengers naked, are a privacy violation with no guarantee of preventing future terror attacks. Advocates say the scans are less intrusive than pat-downs (which, TSA critics point out, are useless if they ignore the crotch area), and a small price to pay for security.

  • 'Not a Silver Bullet,' says Vahid Motavalli, professor of mechanical engineering technology, in The New York Times. "No single technology can ever be considered foolproof. While we spend billions of dollars to develop new systems and screening procedures, a single act can reveal flaws and show how inexpensively they can be defeated." He views costs, inconveniences, and loss of privacy as victories for terrorists, and suggests "multi-layered, unpredictable measures at airports and a much better organized system of intelligence."
  • Cash-Wise, Body Scans Are Worth It Also in The New York Times, professor of management science and air security expert Arnold Barnett argues that "the consequences of a successful terrorist attack against aviation are so great that the devices might well be cost-effective even if they have only a small chance of averting a terrorist act."
  • Scans vs Background Files: I'll Take the Former, decides Reason's Ronald Bailey (his wife agrees). "Which is less invasive of privacy: government agents peeking at your body with millimeter wave scanners at airports or allowing the government to amass and access instantly dossiers of background information before you are allowed to board a flight?" Looking at examples of millimeter wave scans, he decides he'd prefer them.
  • Scans vs. Current Idiocy: I'll Take the Former There, Too "Here's an idea," writes National Review's Jonah Goldberg, "I've heard virtually no one discuss: Trading some additional privacy for some %$#@&*! improved efficiency!" What if scanners reduced the security lines in the airports? But Desert Storm vet and Atlantic Council managing editor James Joyner, though he too supports the scans, doesn't think that will happen: though the scan "provides much more real security than the nonsensical procedures they're using now ... my strong guess ... is that they will continue to use those as well."
  • TSA, Nudity, and Radiation--Fantastic Philadelphia Weekly blogger Joel Mathis isn't convinced, recounting the lack of professionalism of TSA employees even when dealing with a pack of condoms in his suitcase. "Security professionals claim that the virtually-naked images won't be stored," he writes, "but does anybody really want to bet the over-under on how long it takes for some of those images to hit some creepy website somewhere?" He reminds readers that "TSA screeners aren't doctors, who have years of training on how to act professionally and a massive financial incentive to keep their jobs." He thinks abuse of the images "isn't just a possibility--it's a dead-on certainty." Meanwhile, Chickadee at The Agonist remains worried about radiation from the new scans--is it as small a dose as security officials claim?
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