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"Show Us Your Body, or We'll Feel You Up."

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April 9, 2009

You know how when the weather starts to warm, the gym is buzzing with people toning to achieve that perfect beach body? Starting this summer, abs of steel will be in season anytime you fly.

Yesterday, Slate’s William Saletan wrote about the TSA’s new policy towards body scanner —a.k.a. “naked”—machines. Saletan points out that two years ago, the naked machines were offered as an alternative to physical pat-down searches to passengers who set off the metal detectors or were flagged for a secondary screening. Naked machines were considered less invasive than the grope-and-grab.

Well, the alternative will soon become the norm this summer, when the strip-search machines will replace the metal detectors in several U.S. airports. That’s right: this summer, you will no longer have a choice of whether to enter the naked machine or not. As Saletan puts it, the choice is “Show us your body, or we’ll feel you up.”

We’ve written about these machines before, but all you really need to do is look at this picture to see what a “millimeter wave” machine shows airport security. Mortified yet? USA Today found that most flyers had no idea how graphic the naked machines’ images are, even before they stepped inside and subjected themselves to these virtual strip-searches.

One of the points that Saletan makes is that what was formerly voluntary is now mandatory. We hate to say “I told you so,” but this is the classic way that invasive technologies reach us: the authorities make them as palatable as possible to get the public to swallow them (they’ll say it’s “voluntary,” or “applied only in certain cases,” and tell you it’s chock-full of privacy protections). Then once they’re accepted, they become more and more intrusive in all the ways the ACLU always warns against.

As for the TSA’s tough talk about heightened security, let’s be clear: strip-search machines have yet to prove that they actually thwart terrorist acts. An internal Department of Homeland Security report and secondary independent reports actually found that the TSA still cannot identify a large majority of explosives and weapons that testers have sought to bring through security.

We all have a certain expectation of privacy, even at the airport. But does airport security really need to see the stuff we keep under wraps with our clothes like the colostomy bag, the love handles and the beer belly?

We’ll see you at the gym, America.

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