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November 18, 2010

Is America Freaking Out Too Much Over Naked Body Scans?

This has been bothering me. On one hand I'm inclined to just not like invasive pat-downs and naked body scans.

On the other hand, I can't help but think we (especially as conservatives) are supposed to be security-conscious.

This sort of dispute is always implicit in this sort of issue -- the civil libertarian side (supported by some conservatives and many left-wingers) and the security-conscious side (mostly conservatives take this side).

Although there may be some abuses, is it really the best policy to object to methods of bomb-detection which are nearly foolproof? I don't think the body-imaging x-rays can fail to miss an object secreted on someone's body, and even a barely-trained TSA agent can recognize a hidden object when he feels it.

All this "don't touch my junk" stuff -- isn't that just putting up a big sign that says "Terrorists, put your ball of C4 under your testicles"?

If you can't touch in the vicinity of this area, then why bother at all? We've pre-announced exactly where such stuff should be hidden, and of course that is where it will be hidden, then; so there's no point conducting the pat-down at all.

I'm beginning to worry that the public's hackles have been raised without enough thinking about the issue in a way that will wind up benefiting terrorists. As with so many issue, the answer depends on the question posed: Is this a citizen versus his government? Well then, generally, the citizen should win.

But is this more a question of citizens and government against murderous terrorists? That lens makes things look different.

By the way, I don't read this "CAIR says Muslim women can only be searched on the head and neck" press release the way many on the right seem to.

It seems to me the press release is talking about the TSA conducting a specific search promoted only by the hajib. In other words, but for the hajib, the woman would be walked through (as she didn't beep, and didn't get the "sss" random-selection code). But for the hajib, she'd be sent through, having cleared security, but they have a protocol to specifically search the hajib itself.

To me, then, it makes sense that if it's the hajib that's being specifically called out for search then someone would be in their rights to say "No, your protocol isn't for a full-body search, but specifically for the hajib." I don't read this press release as saying hajib-wearers should typically be immune from the body-scan or the opt-out pat-down -- only that if the hajib is being specifically searched, then the search should stay at the hajib area and not become a full-blown pat-down.

So, to me, this doesn't look like a case of special privileges for Muslims (which makes even less sense in this context than usual). So agitation on this particular point seems misplaced.

I had an idea about how to fix the naked-body scan problem. If people are worried about modesty, and TSA agents gawking at them (and that is a real concern), would this solution work?

The TSA scans a batch of people of the same sex, dividing them up. They each go through the body scanner. But, here's the thing, their images are not viewed immediately. Instead they are directed to sit down on a bench to wait for five or six minutes.

Four or five more people of the same sex are sent through and similarly told to sit on the bench.

Only when the machine has imaged five or six people as a group does a TSA agent now cycle through the images (random order). If no one shows anything suspicious, the group of five or six is now permitted to leave the bench and go to their flight.

If and only if one of the images shows something suspicious do they re-scan everybody individually and pat them down.

It's not a perfect solution. In many cases, if the TSA agent really wants to have a peek under the blouse of a stacked girl, or wants to check out a celebrity athlete's package, he or she will have a pretty good guess which image matches which person. But in many cases, it won't be entirely clear who he's looking at. It does provide a little anonymity, or at least the figment of it.

I think I'm increasingly on the side of the basic notion of this sort of security protocol. Adjustments may be needed. I don't want terrorists blowing up planes, after all. Nobody does. But it seems to me that if we're, as we often say, serious about terrorism and security, we can't be quick to dismiss a technology which seems pretty damn effective in finding hidden bombs.

And, by the way, I'm still in favor of Israeli-style security measures, too, including profiling. But I doubt that will ever be implemented... so we need a Plan B.


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posted by Ace at 12:41 PM

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