Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Airport scanning- how much is too much?
I can understand the knee-jerk reaction to being 'violated' in this way but what should we really be concerned about? I think there are a couple of questions, 1) Does it indeed violate civil liberties; 2) is it effective; and 3) is it safe.
In my view the civil liberty issue is a bit of a non-starter. The good of the many outweigh the needs of the few. I'd gladly submit to the scan, lumpy thighs and all, to contribute to better safety for all passengers. The safety issue is the more interesting to me, as well as the overall effects of using the scanners on airport dynamics and travel times. Here is what I have found out. On the safety side, the scanners emit very much less radiation (0.005 milllrads per scan) than normal background (300 millirads). To reach the equivalent of background radiation one would have to go through the machines over 100 times a day. Dr Brenner from the University of Columbia fears the official reports of radiation emitted by the units is underestimated by about 20 times. Even if this is true the radiation is still far less than background. It seems the scanners are pretty safe, even for very frequent travelers. In terms of effectiveness, they can certainly detect weapons. Whether there is a reduction in terrorist-like events we may never know. Most potential incidents do not reach the news. So what about the affect of using the units on travel per se? According to several reports I found the use of a scanner takes about 25 seconds whereas a traditional pat-down takes 2 minutes. If everyone used the scanner, then transit time through security should be faster. A person can keep coats, belts etc on too. Overall, it seems the scanners are a positive move. In the UK, such scanners have been in use for over a year and, after initial controversy over privacy, 95% of the public now approve. A recent blog suggested that there might also be an anti-obesity side effect. Image conscious travelers might want to drop a few pounds before stepping into the machine.
There are murmurings of even more advanced systems that can detect liquid explosives, as well as the aforementioned passenger profiling systems that can identify a possible high-risk passenger based on additional questions asked at check-in. And then there are biometrics methods that determine whether the person's face or eyes matches the person it is supposed to represent. Whole body scanning is just the beginning so we had better come to terms with it. Or just drive.