What if you could walk through that airport body scanner, pause for the camera, and know that your naked image would never be pored over by human eyes? If it was software, not TSA screeners, who searched you and other passengers for possible explosives?
That's the vision of Transportation Security Administration head John Pistole. At a Senate hearing yesterday, Georgia Republican Johnny Isakson conjured this future and suggested to Pisole, "It looks like technology can be a solution to the privacy issue." Pistole responded, "I think so, I'm very hopeful in that regard."
Earlier in his testimony, he'd remarked, "I see us in an interim period" where the TSA was using best available technology but that target recognition software "clearly addresses the privacy issue in its entirety" and would be available soon.
How soon? "I'd like to say months, but it's all technology driven," Pistole said.
While vendors like L-3 and Rapiscan are actively trying to come up with a magic technological solution for the TSA, independent experts on body scanning technology and automated threat detection aren't nearly as optimistic as the TSA head. Setting aside the question of how much real safety would be afforded by body scanners that use algorithms to detect artfully hidden explosives under someone's clothes (I'll leave it to our big guns to debate that point), there are fundamental problems that may make it very difficult to deploy them.