Full Body-Scanners Coming to a City Street Near You
This post originally appeared at Hullabaloo.
Did you know that they are selling those full body scanners they want to deploy in airports to anyone who wants to buy them for use on city streets? Did you know that law enforcement is using them without warrants?
American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview. While the biggest buyer of AS&E’s machines over the last seven years has been the Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Reiss says law enforcement agencies have also deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs in the U.S.
“This product is now the largest selling cargo and vehicle inspection system ever,” says Reiss.
Though Reiss admits that the systems “to a large degree will penetrate clothing,” he points to the lack of features in images of humans like the one shown at right, far less detail than is obtained from the airport scans. “From a privacy standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to see what the concern or objection could be,” he says.
Absolutely. If you don't have anything to hide why would you object to police randomly x-raying you? Who has any expectation of privacy in their car --- or in their clothes?
But EPIC’s Rotenberg says that the scans, like those in the airport, potentially violate the fourth amendment. “Without a warrant, the government doesn’t have a right to peer beneath your clothes without probable cause,” he says. Even airport scans are typically used only as a secondary security measure, he points out. “If the scans can only be used in exceptional cases in airports, the idea that they can be used routinely on city streets is a very hard argument to make.”
And you certainly shouldn't have any expectation that they won't be keeping some data base. That would be ridiculous. The customer is always right.
The TSA’s official policy dictates that full-body scans must be viewed in a separate room from any guards dealing directly with subjects of the scans, and that the scanners won’t save any images. Just what sort of safeguards might be in place for AS&E’s scanning vans isn’t clear, given that the company won’t reveal just which law enforcement agencies, organizations within the DHS, or foreign governments have purchased the equipment. Reiss says AS&E has customers on “all continents except Antarctica.”
Reiss adds that the vans do have the capability of storing images. “Sometimes customers need to save images for evidentiary reasons,” he says. “We do what our customers need.”
Nothing to see here folks. The founders never said that the government couldn't randomly x-ray your car -- and you --- without a warrant. And if they didn't say it, then there can be no law against it. Let's move along.