26 February 2007

TSA Backscatter Tech

Note from the LuapHacim, 11/14/2012: The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect my current beliefs and convictions. Even if they do, I would almost certainly express them in different words today. Time changes people, and I am not exempt. Nonetheless, because of its historical value, I will not modify or remove this post. It tells you (and me) something important about where I've been. Read on at your own peril.

The big story in transportation security this weekend was the implementation of the first backscatter X-rays. These, as you recall, were condemned by some privacy advocates. The Christian Science Monitor got the ACLU's view on the device:
Privacy advocates remain wary of backscatter technology. Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program for the American Civil Liberties Union, likens it to a "virtual strip search." He hasn't seen a demonstration of the latest version of the technology, but he saw an earlier one at a Los Angeles city jail.

"The one I saw was very graphic, almost like a nude picture," he says. The technology has not been installed at airports until now because of questions about privacy and how well it can detect possible weapons, adds Mr. Steinhardt. "Utility is ... important here. People are being asked to trade their privacy for security. But first show us there is some security [benefit]."
Nonetheless, as the New York Times reports, the Transportation Safety Administration is taking steps to ensure a relative amount of privacy:
Security officials examining the head-to-toe images work in a closed booth, hidden from public view, agency officials said. Special “privacy” software intentionally blurs the image, creating an outline of a body that is clear enough to see a collarbone, bellybutton or weapon, but flattens details of revealing contours.
To give you some idea of what's under discussion, here are some pics.

This is the body scan before it's run through the special blurring software. In other words, this is an image that no one would normally see.

This is the body scan after it's cartoonified. This type of image will be viewed by screeeners.

A few comments:

1.) I'm not sure why the blurring technology is even needed; the first pic has all the sexiness of walking in on your mom in the shower. The dummy effect -- no hair, no eyes, weird mouth -- makes this about the same as looking at an unclothed mannequin. It's funny to me that privacy-conscious people would have a problem with people viewing an image like this but would have no problem with being patted down or strip-searched BY THE VERY SAME PEOPLE.

2.) I really think that the only reason this has caught the media's attention is because the establishment is run by randy men who have always dreamed of finding a working version of those incredibly disappointing X-Ray Glasses that they used to naively -- and furtively -- order from the backs of comic books.

3.) Cheers to the ACLU for trying to ensure that the technology doesn't violate privacy, but you guys ought to take a look at the real thing before commenting on it. I'm hearing shades of "I haven't acutally read this, but..." And we know how well that particular line of thought normally goes over with the ACLU. Just sayin'.

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