Friday, June 10, 2005

Why The TSA Will Flinch From Strip-Searching America

The TSA is "proposing" to adopt screening machines that show passengers naked. I bet they don't - they wouldn't dare use it on Muslim women; they'll get sued to death for abuse; and hijackers will just carry their bombs in their carry-ons. Oh, and women and kids will stop flying.

Here's how it works.

A passenger is scanned by rastering or moving a single high energy x-ray beam rapidly over their form. The signal strength of detected backscattered x-rays from a known position then allows a highly realistic image to be reconstructed. Since only Compton scattered x-rays are used, the registered image is mainly that of the surface of the object/person being imaged. In the case of airline passenger screening it is her nude form. The image resolution of the technology is high, so details of the human form of airline passengers present privacy challenges.

Here's why it will never be deployed.

1. The TSA Won't Dare Use It On Muslim Women

Although the Koran does not apparently require it:

In Islamic countries today, women are forced to wear clothes that cover their entire body, including their face. Such clothing is the shallower-kamez, which is long baggy pants, and the chader, which is a large sheet like fabric that covers a woman’s head and chest.

Obviously backscatter X-Ray grossly violates this taboo. And the TSA just won't do it, given the its refusal to profile Arab males (my first ever Springer link!):

Discrimination laws passed during the last 40 years ostensibly fuel the Transportation Secretary's near obsession with avoiding the appearance of discrimination toward young Muslim males. Instead TSA seemingly targets white children and old women. We have failed to recognize that a safety policy by a private airline is quite a different thing from government agents blindly obeying anti-discrimination laws.

So, courtesy the TSA, the US would welcome the female suicide bomber? I don't think so.

2. The TSA Will Be Sued Out of Existence

Anybody who flies frequently in the US will have seen sexual molestation of women by TSA screeners of both sexes, and will know many young women who avoid flying. For example:

Now, as an increasingly common occurrence we find airport security physically "frisking" travelers—including pat-downs of women's breasts and both male and female buttocks and genitalia.

According to TSA officials, since the pat-downs are done with the back of the screener's hand rather than their palms and fingers, the screener shouldn't be offending anyone. However, to the victim of this abuse, there is little difference from being "felt up" with the back or front of some stranger's hand. Many of those patted down believe they were groped with the fronts, not the backs, of the hands of the screeners.

One traveler, a lawyer who is a frequent flyer who had just one too many public breast exams, decided to sue. She hired a prominent New York civil rights lawyer, Norman Siegel, who is currently researching the legal grounds for a class action lawsuit.

How does this happen? Well, many TSA employees are decent people. But it's a job that gives individuals a lot of power over others. And such jobs attract a particular type of abusive personality. All "power" professions have this problem - doctors, cops, firefighters, etc. And they all try to screen them out. But some get through.

So, the ones that enjoy patting womens' breasts will graduate to taking digital pictures of them naked as they step through the backscatter X-Ray. The pedophiles will take pictures of the kids. Then they'll share them on the Internet. And people will find out. And they'll sue everybody in sight.

3. And Anyway, It Won't Work

The only thing backscatter X-Ray does better than metal detectors is detect non-metallic objects of regular shape under clothing - a plastic gun perhaps. But with armored cockpit doors, there's a limited amount of harm the terrorist with a gun can do. Much more likely is plastic explosive molded to look like, say, a battery in a laptop. That takes the plane down, without having to break into the cockpit, and with creative timing, that could do significant damage. But I put this point last because lack of utility will weigh least with the TSA bureaucrats - if they really cared about utility they'd be profiling before searching, not alienating the population.