Privacy activists condemn ‘virtual strip search’ security system at airport

May 19th, 2009 - 6:03 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, May 19 (ANI): Privacy activists are planning to call for a ban on the use of whole-body imaging, the airport security technology that they say performs ‘a virtual strip search’ and produces ‘naked’ pictures of passengers.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said that the national campaign, which will gather signatures from organizations and relevant professionals, is set to be launched this week to urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to suspend the use of the technology.

However, Kristin Lee, spokeswoman for Transportation Security Administration (TSA), said in a written statement that the machines “detect both metallic and nonmetallic threat items to keep passengers safe. It is proven technology, and we are highly confident in its detection capability.”

Lee said that so far, the testing phase has been promising. When given the choice, “over 99 percent of passengers choose this technology over other screening options,” she said.

Using millimeter wave technology, the machine scans a traveller and a robotic image is generated that allows security personnel to detect potential threats.

TSA officials said that privacy concerns are addressed in a number of ways.

The system uses a pair of security officers. The one working the machine never sees the image, which appears on a computer screen behind closed doors elsewhere; and the remotely located officer who sees the image never sees the passenger.

Lee said that as part of further protection, a passenger’s face is blurred and the image as a whole ‘resembles a fuzzy negative.’

She also said that the officers monitoring images aren’t allowed to bring cameras, cell phones or any recording device into the room, and the computers have been programmed so they have ‘zero storage capability’ and images are ‘automatically deleted.’

However, Coney said she’s seen whole-body images captured by similar technology dating back to 2004 that were much clearer than what’s represented by the airport machines.

“What they’re showing you now is a dumbed-down version of what this technology is capable of doing. Having blurry images shouldn’t blur the issue,” CNN quoted her as saying. (ANI)

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