The Premonitions of the ACLU of Oklahoma in February 2009: Airport Body Scanners

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ACLU Backgrounder on Body Scanners and “Virtual Strip Searches”

The Transportation Security Administration is installing new “whole body imaging” machines at some airports around the country – essentially taking a naked picture of air passengers as they pass through security checkpoints. In short, this technology is a “virtual strip search.” As of June 2008, the machines are reportedly being deployed at BWI airport, Dallas/Fort Worth, LAX, JFK, Reagan National, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Detroit, Phoenix, and Miami.

The technology being used in most cases is called “Millimeter Wave.” It is different from “backscatter x-rays” in that it uses non-radioactive electromagnetic waves to produce images.

What’s wrong with body scanners?

This technology produces strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies. Those images reveal not only our private body parts, but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags. That degree of examination amounts to a significant – and for some people humiliating – assault on the essential dignity of passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate.

This technology should not be used as part of a routine screening procedure. Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane. However, such technology may be used in place of an intrusive search, such as a body cavity search, when there is probable cause sufficient to support such a search.

TSA may say that these scanners will only be used for secondary screening, and will be a voluntary alternative to a patdown search. But…..

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