ACLU Calls for Removal of Controversial See-Through Scanner in Orlando

March 15, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union today called upon Orlando International Airport to remove a controversial new X-ray body-scanning device that can see through clothing and show a person’s naked body.

“This body-scan technology is nothing more than an electronic strip search,” said Barry Steinhardt, ACLU Associate Director. “This technology brings an extraordinary potential for abuse. We certainly should not be using it in our airports before other, less intrusive alternatives have been tried out.”

Steinhardt cited as an example of a less-intrusive approach another technology being tested in Orlando, a particle analyzer that blows air on passengers as they walk through a short corridor and reacts if any explosives particles are detected.

“There is no need to test the bodyscan technology,” Steinhardt said. “It is already used by the Customs service in certain circumstances. No one has any doubt that it works. What they really seem to be testing here is not the technology but the public’s acceptance of it – of having their nude body inspected by a security employee every time they need to get on a plane.”

The body scanner being deployed uses low-dose X-rays that can see through clothing but not human skin. Sample images provided on manufacturers’ Web site clearly show just how revealing the technology is. (See the ACLU’s Web site for an example of the images produced by the technology.)

“Body-scanning is a debasing and humiliating procedure, and its routine use fails basic balancing tests,” Steinhardt said. “This technology should be used as a last resort; devices such as particle analyzers that are set to detect explosives might bring us the same level of security without destroying passengers’ bodily privacy.”

The ACLU noted that the body-scan technology could reveal highly personal details of travelers’ bodies such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes and the size of breasts and genitals. In addition, the ACLU noted, hundreds of women – including flight attendants — have complained about being subject to sexual assault under the pretext of security searches.

“Abuse of this powerful technology is not a hypothetical,” Steinhardt said. “Given recent experiences, it is inevitable. Airport security personnel do not check their sexual impulses at the door when they arrive for work.”

“Some Americans happily circulate nude pictures of themselves on the Internet, while others won’t wear clothing that reveals their bare arms,” Steinhardt said. “But it is safe to say that most Americans would go to great lengths to avoid being strip-searched, and I think that for example the average American family visiting Disney World would be shocked to learn what could be forced upon them.”

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