It was announced last week that the TSA will begin testing new “backscatter” technology as secondary security screening in Phoenix by the end of the month.
So what is a backscatter machine? Well, it’s basically an x-ray machine that will show screeners what you’ve got underneath your clothes. The low level intensity will go through clothing, but it won’t tell screeners if you have a broken leg. You just get to see some skin.
On the left is the skin of TSA Security Lab Director Susan Hallowell. It also clearly shows a bomb and gun that she was hiding underneath her clothes. If you’d like to see her with clothes on, click here.
As you can imagine, images like this have caused a stir among privacy advocates. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has a page discussing the proposal and the ACLU has been vocal as well.
The TSA says that the images will be reviewed in a back room and then instantly deleted after the person (now likely to be young and hot – remember, this is secondary screening) has been cleared.
Is there a chance this database could be breached and pictures could flood the internet? Who knows for sure, but the answer is always yes . . . it is a possibility no matter how remote.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s really worth it in this instance. It’s much more reliable than a metal detector, because it can catch things that aren’t metallic. It’s not any more invasive than a metal detector – the only difference is that the result is more revealing. Hopefully we’ll see this technology spread throughout the US and one day, when the process can be sped up enough, it will replace metal detectors entirely.