Are full body scans really the answer to airline security?

by Karen Fawcett on December 31, 2009

full bodyAre full body scanners the answer when it come to averting potential terrorist attacks when going through airport security? Would you object to walking through them? Are they an invasion of your privacy?  Would you ask to be individually screened?

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport will implement them within three weeks after the Christmas Day incident of explosives being concealed by Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab on a Detroit bound flight.

Many people questioned feel being screened should be a non-issue and the sooner the better. They want to speed up the time it takes to clear security and would welcome not having to take off outer garments, removing shoes, belts and not being required to unpack computer bags.

On the negative side, even then, these machine aren’t foolproof because it’s necessary to rely on humans to do visual scanning in an extremely finite period of time. That means evidence might be missed and the people responsible for scanning may not have the required technical expertise to intercept it.

One executive warns against an over reliance on technology. He feels it breeds complacency due to the belief machines have taken care of an issue so you do not need to worry. He’d be willing to walk through a scanning machine but would have greater confidence in the El-Al method of questioning. Even though he objects be being grilled and prodded, he has more faith in it from a security point of view.

A travel executive voiced she doesn’t think full body scans are the answer and will cause many to re-think their travel plans. She feels the TSA has numerous problems and when new screening systems are introduced, people manage to get through with contraband. The real issue is that people who want to cause harm will find a way to do it.

The ethical issue of privacy is out of date states one airline executive. The person doing the screening doesn’t see the passenger in person unless the passenger himself chooses to identify him or herself.

Tony Lamb, an operations research analyst with Scientific Research Corporation, says, “the TSA’s security paradigm is extremely reactionary. I remember never having to go barefoot at the airport until Richard Reid tried to blow up his Nikes. Now someone new hid some Semtex in his underwear and we’ll have full body scans. The bottleneck is at the security screening and it’s faulty. Unfortunately, it’s better than what we had pre-9/11.”

Lamb never liked the federalized guards at TSA. “They’ve had minimal training before being posted; a lot of them are little more than mall cops and are task saturated. Screening all of the passengers for possible bombs, knives, and guns in the allotted time is tough.”

Alisa Templeton from the Denver area says, “Hell no to body scans and here are just a few reasons why: They’d slow down, not speed up, security – especially if any of the TSA agents are gawkers. It’s a violation of my privacy. Yes my doctor sees these things, but she’s a doctor. Terrorists will find ways around the scanners as they’ve already done with watch lists and other security measures.”

People have different (and sometimes very passionate) opinions about these scanners. Please post how you feel and would you alter your travel plans?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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  • http://pollyvousfrancais.blogspot.com Polly-Vous Francais

    I wouldn’t object to full body scans, but on the other hand don’t think it will do much to prevent the next terrorist from finding a way around it. I do object to the edict of staying in your seat for the last hour of the flight.

  • Frank

    One executive warns against an over reliance on technology. He feels it breeds complacency due to the belief machines have taken care of an issue so you do not need to worry. He’d be willing to walk through a scanning machine but would have greater confidence in the El-Al method of questioning.
    ====================================================

    Easy solution, have TWO SETS of eyes doing the screening. (Two screeners) Secondly, El-Al has great security, however, Israel has FEW airports compared to the United States, with some 400 nationally.

    I worked a trip into Belfast, Ireland, in the eighties. As a crewmember I was frisked inside a closed off area. Lady with gloves. On the way to the hotel, a police car pulled the van over on the road to inspect a van load of uniformed individuals. Asked our intention in his country.
    My Hotel had barbed wire around the entire grounds.

    Would the scanner make me more safe? I say, YES. Is it 100% full proof? NO. But, either is keeping the most important person in this country safe, the President. But, let’s make it MORE DIFFICULT for the terrorist and the scanner does that.

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  • Joe (Atlanta)

    Count me as strongly IN FAVOR OF the full body scans. And strongly in favor of whatever technology comes next, no matter what.

    I think the machines will improve our success rate at catching terrorists.

    And if they have the side benefit of keeping prudish, right-wing nutjobs at home, that too will help the lines move faster.

  • Hapgood

    Full body scans are not an answer to anything, except perhaps to answer the need of the scanner manufacturers to increase their profits. However, the scanners could likely provide a significant improvement in the capability of detecting hidden dangerous material. But that’s ONLY when they’re deployed by an agency that can reliably operate them with consistent effectiveness, and also consistently implement dependable safeguards to prevent the abuse of technology that is inherently a significant intrusion into passenger privacy. Unfortunately, the TSA as it currently exists is not such an agency.

    The TSA has a deplorable track record of failure in the use of its current approaches to interdicting contraband. Undercover tests and audits have shown no improvement at all over the years. So there is no reason to believe that the “officers” secreted in their remote hidey-holes peering at images of our naked bodies will be any more effective than the ones who regularly miss bomb components in tests. Why should we believe that “officers” who make a public display of their inconsistent ineptitude be any different when they’re out of view?

    Similarly, there is no reason to trust the TSA’s continually-repeated assurances that the scanner images will not be stored or distributed. If you think about it, they almost certainly NEED to retain the images as evidence should they actually find a real terrorist, and probably also for testing and training purposes. But the pervasive secrecy that is the TSA’s trademark gives them every incentive to lie, or to put out false or misleading information that they believe will keep the public placid, compliant, and/or terrified into submission. If everything they do is secret and hidden away, nobody is going to discover their lies or hold them accountable, so why shouldn’t they lie if if they think it will benefit themselves? This isn’t a “conspiracy theory,” as much as a well-known fact that secrecy and the absence of oversight invite incompetence, waste, and abuse. So it’s entirely sensible to assume that’s just what’s going on behind the TSA’s locked doors, particularly in light of what IS visible at airport checkpoints.

    The scanners definitely have their place in the arsenal against terrorism. But that does not mean handing the TSA a blank check to strip search everyone. The underwear bomber showed the failings of multiple government agencies that have nothing to do with airport screening. The TSA’s usual solution of punishing all passengers for those failings will not improve security!

    The high cost (in liberty and privacy as well as dollars) of subjecting every passenger to a strip search or full pat-down would be far more effectively spent on reforming the TSA, and instituting the accountability, oversight, and transparency that would assure the public that they’re getting effective protection in exchange for giving up so much privacy. I think if the Obama administration and Congress seriously decided to clean up the dank dark caverns of the TSA and create an agency the public trusts and respects, people would be quite willing to accept full body scanning and perhaps even more intrusive measures. But we should not allow the current TSA to inflict it on us. After all, they’re the same buffoons who reacted to the underwear bomber by requiring passengers to sit at attention during the last hour of flights.

  • janet

    I would definitely limit my very extensive travel if this goes in effect. First of all, it will create chaos and has yet to stop anyone. Second, the TSA is saying that they are fine medically for the frequent traveller, but who really knows the long term effects? Do you really want non medically trained personnel working with these machines? How many times have we heard over the years that xrays and other tests were safe to later hear otherwise? I heard that CT’s were safe and it turns out I was overexposed to technology that could cause problems in the future.

  • Marlin Yoder

    I am not for invasion of privacy, and while I think plenty of things our government does, are an invasion of privacy, how is seeing my body an invasion of privacy? I just don’t get that. Exactly at what point does that start? Could they see everything but a small specific area and still be an invasion of privacy? Exactly how far is to far? At one time people would have considered that to see any part of a female leg to be an issue, now we don’t. We need to stop being prudish and get over these hangups about a naked body.

  • Ron

    A few days ago, the headlines were filled with stories that CT scan machines were attributed to 29,000 new cancers and 14,500 new deaths. We were told they were safe, and these machines were saving lives.

    Sure, the new Millimeter wave technology used in these new scanners has a very low dose of radiation (approximately 0.005 – 0.009 millirems of radiation per scan). However, radiation exposure is cumulative. Combine these scans with the normal raditaition we get from flying, doctor’s X-Rays and other procedures, we are all being exposed more and more.

    I am not a “Chicken Little” running around saying the sky is falling, but I am also wondering what is next? I can see it now, the terrorist start to realize they cannot hide the packets on their bodies, so they start putting them inside.

    The TSA hears about this and realizes that with just the slight tweaking of the software, their neat scanners can start seeing a few millimeters inside the skin, not just through clothes. OK, the average flyer is exposed to more radiation, but hey, you want to fly or be safe?

    First it was metal in our pockets. Then it was taking our coats and outer garments off, then it was our shoes, now it is a virtual strip search. What is the next logical step?

    If you asked me at the start of the last decade if I thought security at airports would involve an x-ray machine that could look through all fliers clothes, I would have said they were crazy.

    It has been small steps to get where we were are today with airport security. What might seem crazy today may not be so crazy in 2020.

    Happy New Year.

  • Frank

    I’ve been thinking about this incident the last few days. There’s a glaring security HOLE to the body scanner. What if something dangerous is ingested, inserted anally or surgically placed WITHIN THE BODY….wouldnt that make the body scanner obsolete????? TSA and the govt better up the machine’s ability to see more of one’s body then just clothes and what’s UNDER there.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/ned/ Ned Levi

    I think the full body scan can be an effective tool is the TSA arsenal if four things happen.

    First, the TSA must set up a procedure and rules which ensure to the extent the government can ensure it, our privacy with regard to the machine.

    Second, and far more important, TSA must understand that this machine has serious limitations in detection of banned items being carried on people. According to some security people I’ve spoken to, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s explosives only had a 50/50 chance of being picked up by a full body scanner agent. It would have taken a highly trained agent, who wasn’t being pushed to get people through the unit and who was not tired and extremely alert to have seen it. Moreover, had the explosives been hidden in a body cavity, the machine would have had no chance whatsoever to detect it.

    Third, we need to start instituting some effective “low tech” solutions, that are fast, efficient and work as “high tech” is not always the answer. We should start using explosive sniffing canines on a regular basis.

    Fourth and most important, we need to stop reacting to past situations and instead be proactive. The best way I know to do this is to start psychological profiling. This has nothing to do with religion, country of origin, race, ethnic background or any of the other objections many have. It has to do with the individual and who they are themselves. It’s my opinion that this is the best method of stopping terrorists, but it takes highly trained, qualified people, and TSA doesn’t currently employ many people like that as agents.

  • http://conssumertraveler Nick Ciriello

    Apart from the truth of the comment that it is impossible to prevent people from doidng harm who REALLY want to do it…….so smart !….we have to keep trying, and objecting to a body scan is puerile. After a while, a body is a body, and , as a young friend once told me after excitedly beginning his ob gyn phase of internship……a job gets to be a job pretty quickly ! SO let’s try this one…….

  • http://cornichon.org Ronald

    At Yale, in the 50s & 60s, freshmen were required to pose naked for “posture pictures.” Supposedly for some scientific study. Big joke, har har. Turned out the administrator collecting the pix was a pervert. Who’s to say body scans won’t turn out the same way?

  • Ron S.

    There is no easy solution. I am personally not opposed to body
    scanners; however, many people agree that if a terrorist has
    made it to the airport, it’s pretty much all over.

  • http://www.whitings-writings.com John Whiting

    The more totally secure we succeed in making air travel, the sooner our water supplies or some other life support system will be attacked. All our security emphasis is on cure rather than prevention — the cures frequently so constructed as to compound the causes. For instance, let’s single out and publicly humiliate as many middle class Arabs as possible.

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  • http://www.expatprovence.org Judith Reitman

    I’m with Nick C. that if someone wants to do harm they will, especially if doing harm and dying in the process are considered honorable. Can any technology protect us from that state of mind? .

  • Adele

    Ultimately, the Christmas terrorist was stopped by ordinary people.

    Here’s an idea- why not train ordinary citizens how to stop terrorists on airplanes? Have each volunteer get a background check (or give them a pass if they had one recently), teach them some basic self defense and attack moves in a class, and combine that with a one day seminar geared toward things one can do to stop a terrorist on an airplane- without weapons. Let each volunteer pay for the training at his/her own expense. I can think of a number of people who would jump at the chance to obtain such training, if only for the peace of mind of, “If it every happens to me, there is something I can do.”

    If thousands of frequent flyers got such training, terrorists would probably stop putting suicide bombers on airplanes, as they would be unlikely to be successful. If each citizen paid for his own training, the impact on the average taxpayer would be minimal. Instead of ever more invasive personal screening, TSA could increase efforts on screening checked luggage, where there are far fewer objections.

  • Jack Wesley

    Air travel, done my share, nonetheless I have no real love for the jet set life. Plus I had my experience with emergency landing due to structural defect. More so in today’s reality flying is not in my best interest scanners or not.

    Biological warfare, suicide bombers, example bubonic plague or some other biological contaminate; infect suicidal people send them on their way, will not bring down a plane, another kind of a possible ticking time bomb. Like many others state, people out to cause harm; yes they will find a way.

    Maybe it is time to consider the causes of the insanity where people feel the need to kill and harm others, as there is no way to guarantee a hundred percent protection from such actions.

    Watching a program on the net (Britain from Above) three point- six billion pounds too place a communications satellite in space.
    Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/britainfromabove/stories/space/intoorbit.shtml

    The above is only one small example, maybe we all should consider cleaning up the human misery on this planet first. Then move forward with other endeavours of human interest.

    Nope not for me, to all, stay safe and happy flying.

  • Jackie

    I am amazed at the responses from so many people who are in complete favor of full body scans with no concerns for health, civil rights, or privacy.

    Are we no longer Americans, but just a herd of easily frightened sheep?

    You do realize that the next incident may involve an explosive hidden in a body cavity- which these scanners cannot detect. Will you readily lay down all your rights and embrace body cavity searches next? For your children, also?

    That’s where it’s heading, and all with your eager and willing permission.

  • Jeremy

    For ethical reasons as long as the person looking at the scans is in another room, and is same sex, then I am OK with it. I wouldn’t want some dirty old man looking at my wife or daughter’s body, but if it was a woman looking I wouldn’t mind…

    Although not perfect, this will make it more difficult for terrorists to smuggle in explosives. If someone is forced to shove a bomb up their ass to conceal it, I would expect they would appear much more uncomfortable which could also be noticed by a properly trained person.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    Unfortunately, you don’t have a choice of which gender gets to see you, your daughter or wife naked in the whole-body scanners as they are presently set up in the USA. When I went into the observation kiosk, I actually only saw female models in the machines.

  • dave

    The scanner’s manufacturers have already admitted that they would not have detected the underwear bomb because it was in a light powdered form and the detonator was hidden in his rectum.

    Anyone who thinks this is a good idea is misinformed.

  • mia

    I think basic thing we need to deal with “what cause terrorism”?and why these people want to kill west? And for that the answer is how sure are we that osama did 9/11 when osama later himself said that old video of him accepting he did 9/11 is fake and talibans denying osama did 911.Next why usa invaded Iraq?..Next now USA will invade Iran then Pakistan then Yemen and then N Korea and what not.Lets face it.The government of USA is telling lies and bundle of lies and i hope west uses common sense to see whats going on.When usa army is raping 13 yr old kids in Iraq,Afghanistan and raping women and sexually abusing the poor people what do you expect?sending you roses?I believe in peace and these body scanners are just ways to sell scanners.Please wake up people of America, your own leaders are betraying you and raping,killing,hunting poor kids,women,men with your tax money.Trust me Muslims will stop wars moments usa announces to leave Iraq,Afghanistan and stop building American army base in Pakistan(Usa embassy) if USA don’t stop it, let me assure you no body scanner can stop these terrorists because no one can see his mother,daughter getting raped,killed.can you see your sister,mom getting raped? no you cant and you will strike back so that’s what going on.

  • bob

    people who say yes to airline scanners make me sick

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