Backscatter X-Ray Technology

Backscatter X-ray technology is a method of using X rays to see inside objects. The science is complicated, but the upshot is that you can see people naked:

The application of this new x-ray technology to airport screening uses high energy x-rays that are more likely to scatter than penetrate materials as compared to lower-energy x-rays used in medical applications. Although this type of x-ray is said to be harmless it can move through other materials, such as clothing.

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.

EPIC's "Spotlight on Security" page is an excellent resource on this issue.

The TSA has recently announced a proposal to use these machines to screen airport passengers.

I'm not impressed with this security trade-off. Yes, backscatter X-ray machines might be able to detect things that conventional screening might miss. But I already think we're spending too much effort screening airplane passengers at the expense of screening luggage and airport employees...to say nothing of the money we should be spending on non-airport security.

On the other side, these machines are expensive and the technology is incredibly intrusive. I don't think that people should be subjected to strip searches before they board airplanes. And I believe that most people would be appalled by the prospect of security screeners seeing them naked.

I believe that there will be a groundswell of popular opposition to this idea. Aside from the usual list of pro-privacy and pro-liberty groups, I expect fundamentalist Christian groups to be appalled by this technology. I think we can get a bevy of supermodels to speak out against the invasiveness of the search.

News article

Posted on June 9, 2005 at 1:04 PM • 71 Comments

Comments

katreJune 9, 2005 1:45 PM

I love that the quote refers to "her" clothing. We know who most screeners will be focussing on. Maybe that's a viable exploit: be a bald ugly man and travel with some young attractive women, and the screeners will never notice the ceramic knife.

Grant GouldJune 9, 2005 2:01 PM

Any bets on how long until a model sues a screener or a backscatter scanner company for copyright infringement?

AndrewJune 9, 2005 2:01 PM

It sounds like the scanners are designed to not penetrate skin, to avoid potential radiation damage, but what about leather? Other than being drier it should have about the same X-ray properties.

So is James Bond's original chamois leather holster going to come back into fashion? Or leather underwear?

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek since the outline of the holster and gun would still be there, but could still be a useful idea for smugglers of one sort or another.

Sylvain GalineauJune 9, 2005 2:06 PM

With respect to those supermodels, maybe that is the plan. Once they come out complaining about agents seeing them naked, expect a surge in the number of TSA applicants....

ChrisJune 9, 2005 2:28 PM

Yeah, I've taken to wearing sandals whenever i have to go to the airport instead of sneakers. My feet will hurt more, but it's much less stressful.

(What happens when some terrorist tries to light a bomb embedded in his underwear on some flight, that's what I want to know...)

Don't rely on the fundies to save us, though. Fundamentalist groups believe anything that their leaders tell them, so you only have to convince a few individuals at the top. Basically, get Dobson to support it, and he'll make sure his sheep support it. Perhaps show him some demo pictures using young boys, since he has such a fascination with 'raising' them...

AnonymousJune 9, 2005 2:30 PM

This is just, yet again, another fine waste of taxpayers dollars and extreme intrusion of privacy for services/systems that offer no real benefit over already in place procedures. In effect a strip search of all airline customers (without the security of cavity/body fold search).

OK, it does allow for assembly line speed of strip searches/pat downs...


And unless the system does not store any images for later retrieval(or allow "snapshots/screen captures") these images will be sold/leaked to highest bidder eventually,(and if the images are not stored, it leaves room for abuse by screeners stating they "saw" something which warranted further search/seizures without presentable proof). As already evidenced by TSA's publicy known abuse of private citizen's gathered data, how could any trust possibly be placed in their hands?
A majority of the screeners are low paid, unmodivated, and usually plain rude and disrespectful employees, who quite frankly, are no more trustworthy than any other jo blow on the street.

Fred F.June 9, 2005 2:38 PM

The thing is that last time something happened, it was done with box-cutters. I know people will be less passive in that situation today but how hard would be to hide some type of weapon in a body cavity? Or better still someone with nice skin folds could probably hide a LOT under some of those.

TSA Agent: Uhhh can you please lift those up? I can't see under them. :)

ArikJune 9, 2005 2:40 PM

And when all is said and done, this still does not prevent a DETERMINED, intelligent attacker from getting a few pounds of plastic explosives on the damn airplane and detonate it.

Personally, I can't care less if the entire crowd at the screeners would see my body. That's their problem, not mine. As long as I don't have to strip. But is this really helping? Does it really make us safer? If it doesn't, then it's just a very expensive voyeuristic game for the screeners.

Eric K.June 9, 2005 2:51 PM

"Yeah, I've taken to wearing sandals whenever i have to go to the airport instead of sneakers."

I've long been expecting that the average standards of dress for airline passengers would take a nosedive as people dress less to impress and more for "easy access".

I'd like to try showing up at the ticket counter with a mesh sack for luggage and wearing nothing but sandals and a swimsuit to see what they say.

Justin MasonJune 9, 2005 3:09 PM

Note that a backscatter x-ray machine was deployed at London Heathrow's Terminal 4 last year (and may still be there, I don't know).

Also, some models (the Rapiscan SECURE 1000) allow images to be saved to floppy by the operator, according to its FAQ. Given that, I'm waiting for the first leaked pictures of a naked supermodel to appear...

Another issue -- in the UK, storing backscatter X-ray images of children in electronic form (maybe even internally to the machine) would seem to constitute 'making, distributing or possessing child pornography', which is a crime under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003.

KyleJune 9, 2005 3:33 PM

Spending on non-airport security? OK, yeah, it happens, but it's not where the focus is because that's where the last major security failure (is perceived to have) happened. Just like the maxim that generals always plan for the last war, security folks tend to plan for the last threat.

Then again, anticipating the next threat and the right countermeasures (just like anticipating the next war and the right strategy & tactics) is *hard*...

B. LeeJune 9, 2005 4:09 PM

Arik writes: "... this still does not prevent a DETERMINED, intelligent attacker from getting a few pounds of plastic explosives on the damn airplane and detonate it."

Well since 9/11 we have not had a U.S. airliner brought down by plastic explosives. And I think the majority of us here would agree that there are people out there who are both intelligent and determined (DETERMINED even!) to attack us. Therefore, what's prevented them from doing so to this point?

Erik CarlseenJune 9, 2005 4:47 PM

Great, does this means that exhibitionists are going to be crowding the airports, constantly going through security 15 times for each flight?

ArikJune 9, 2005 6:08 PM

@B. Lee

"what's prevented them from doing so to this point?"

I'll risk being labeled as a racist, but here's my theory. I'll also mention that I am an Israeli, which may bias my world view. Bruce, just nuke my comment if you think it is inappropriate. It is about security though, just bear with me.

My first point is this: "We" are different than "Them". "We" is us, the western civilization, and "Them" is Al Qaeda, their proponents and supporters.

The differences between "Us" and "Them" goes beyond geography. I know that this is difficult to accept, and you may as well call me a racist, but as someone who has grown in an area of conflict, and is exposed to the world view of the involved parties, I can discern a difference in the morality of people from both sides.

"We" put a very high value on human lives, which is deeply ingrained in our culture. Moreover, we put the same (or similar) value on lives of other people in other cultures. And to top it off, we believe that moral values are, to an extent, compatible among those other cultures. Surely the utmost value of human life is uniform among all cultures. Like Sting's song: "I hope the Russians love their children too".

Well, "They" don't share our morality, and don't share our endearment of human life. In "Their" world, not all human life has the same value. Moreover, it is acceptable, under some conditions, to terminate your own life for some purpose. It is a legitimate act, if in that act you are advancing some higher purpose. There are parallels in "our" culture - like attacking the enemy in the battlefield to gain advancement while risking life and limb - only in "their" culture the reward for these actions is pretty selfish, and is greater if you actually die.

Another cultural difference is the perception of strength of a {person, group, nation}. In "our" culture, applying force is something we do when all other, non violent options are exhausted. Holding back means we are stronger, because we are so powerful that we are in a position which allows us to hold back.

This non-action of holding back is considered by "them" as weakness. Strength in "their" eyes is the ability to answer every move with a counter-move that is equal or greater in force. Sort of an eye for an eye. This is very difficult to explain, you have to witness that. The only way to communicate it effectively is by saying that "they" respect force, but it's more subtle.

"Their" take on "us" is that our lack of reaction, which we see as holding on to a position of relative strength, construes a weak culture, a culture that will succumb to force easily. Think of "us" in "their" eyes as people who are on the brink of being submissive slaves to their desires, losing our definition and taking on to their values, and we only need a slight push in the right direction.

It is my belief that this line of reasoning has brought on the 9.11 attack, which was supposed to be that "push".

And in some parts of the world, this assumption proved correct. Take, for instance, Spain - where Al Qaeda effectively changed the results of the elections.

In the US their assumption was very wrong. As much as I don't like Bush, in this case he has done the Right Thing. Working in both the financial and military aspects, the US has dealt a decisive blow on the infrastructure of Al-Qaeda's terror. In fact I think the US has shocked Al-Qaeda in a very fundamental way. Ironically, I think the US has earned some respect in "their" eyes. An Al-Qaeda response to the US' attack is not in a scope that "they" can come up with right now, and might incur an even more horrific retaliation. I do not think Al-Qaeda is ready for that right now.

So this is my response to your question: I don't think that Al-Qaeda is ready for another attack on the US.

Moreover, when the attack will come, it will have to be a step-up from all that we have seen so far. It is my prediction that it will utilize unconventional WMD.

Let's go back to security. When we "do security", and we build our attack tree, and put a price tag on every attack (the cost of the attack) and on every protected resource, we need to put the right price on the attack, and the way to calculate the right price is to take a look at the attack from the point of view of the attacker.

The 9/11 attack was rediculusly cheap. A few hours in a simulator, a plane ticket and box-cutters? Dirt cheap. We needed to raise the price for that attack. Reinforcing the flight deck doors is a cheap way to increase the cost of this attack immensely. Not infinitely, but you definitely need more than box-cutters, and these are more difficult to bring aboard - the regular magnometers that were used before 9/11 would detect those. Moreover, the cost of that particular attack is higher just because people are painfully aware of the possibility of executing it - I bet the next poor sap that tries to hijack an airplane will be lynched by a mob of angry passengers.

In fact, the cost is so high now that it soared high above the cost of many other types of attacks. The attack of suicide blowing-up of airplanes in mid-air for instance. Only that the cost of preventing this attack is extremely high. Much higher than those fancy backscatter machines. Think full cavity search for all passengers plus practically destroying many pieces of their luggage. Impractical. Or maybe anaesthetizing all passengers prior to boarding. I think that nothing short of these severe measures can increase the cost of this attack considerably.

So what is the solution? In my opinion, in addition to raising the bar for attacks, reduce the amount of money that is available to these organizations that make those attacks. Pressure them financially to an unprecedented extent. And here's another racist statement: Find an alternative to fossil fuel.

-- Arik

ScoteJune 9, 2005 7:43 PM

One thing I have noticed is that there seem to be no uncensored photos of *men* and how detailed the genitals are in the image. If you really want to get a visceral sense of outrage, I think the real uncensored images would help do that.

Also, these scanners do nothing to detect items in body cavities since they only go skin deep.

None of the new security screening measures can prevent terrorists from bringing on similar materials to the 9/11 hijackers--so this latest gross invasion of privacy is just another multibillion dollar boondoggle.

Oh, and the not so insignificant matter of cumulative radiation does for frequent travelers and airport workers is also an important issue.

Ari HeikkinenJune 9, 2005 7:54 PM

I can't see how "a camera that can see under people's clothing" is going to help security or prevent a terrorist attack. I'd imagine something that could detect a weapon or a bomb hidden inside someone's body would be much more useful than merely seeing thru someone's clothes.

xJune 9, 2005 7:57 PM

Arik said:

> "We" put a very high value on human
> lives, which is deeply ingrained in our
> culture. Moreover, we put the same
> (or similar) value on lives of other
> people in other cultures.

Sure, as long as you don't count that pesky six-figure body count caused by what many people, inside and outside the United States, consider an illegal and unjust war.

Sorry, I stopped reading after that part, so I have no idea if you redeemed yourself. I can't see how you could, though.

Ari HeikkinenJune 9, 2005 9:13 PM

Well, I'm not an expert on x-ray machines myself but I found this with google (http://www.machinevisiononline.org/public/articles/archivedetails.cfm?id=891):

--
By adding the backscatter measurements to the high-energy transmission x-rays, AS&E representatives claim to better differentiate lower atomic weight organic materials systems, such as drugs and explosives, in their cargo container inspection while transmission x-rays reveal spatial details. CT systems on the other hand, key on density measurements of specific objects. "Remember, we're not looking for guns, so we can't use shapes," explained InVision's Mesqui. "You can mold explosives into almost any shape. What we recognize is differences in density from the transmission x-ray to start the CT scan for finer detail."
--

Unless that's purely marketing it could explain why they're considering it. If those machines are used for checking cargo containers it's probably not a problem. But used for seeing people naked (if they can actually do that) is simply invasion of privacy.

AdrianJune 9, 2005 11:49 PM

What's the point of all the scans anyway when the airlines won't give you a metal fork but still serve wine in glass bottles!

Who here has cut themself on a metal fork?

Who here has cut themself on broken glass?

The scanners seem pointless 'appear to do something' make work.

AnonymousJune 10, 2005 1:23 AM

@arik

"We" put a very high value on human lives, which is deeply ingrained in our culture.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/...

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/...

---
"We" are different than "Them". "We" is us, the western civilization, and "Them" is Al Qaeda, their proponents and supporters.

Unfortunately you need to realise that either "We" are all the same - i.e. people , or "We" are all individuals.....

Arturo QuirantesJune 10, 2005 2:31 AM

So the US is slowing turning itself into a gigantic jail. People entering the US have to undergo a heavy search of all his/her belongings; their personal airline data have to be checked bu US LEA before the plane even takes off; at the US airports, a Gestapo-like file is automatically produced, including fingerprint scanning and photograph, like a suspect. And now we have to be X-ray scanned with a machine whose resolution would make a paedophile smile. Hmmm, don't expect me flying over to the US as a tourist for a while. Not to speak of my wife and children. Pity for the US tourism industry...

David GriffithsJune 10, 2005 3:46 AM

Security videos showed that at least one of the 911 hi-jackers had something visibly clipped in their back pocket - presumably one of the knives they used. If people can't use their eyes to spot these things, X-rays are unlikely to work.

Surely this money would be better spent on schemes to calm the tension in the middle east and on human and electronic intelligence to track down the baddies?

ArikJune 10, 2005 3:55 AM

@Anon with the bbc links

Links I can get you very far. If the media is what you use as your source of information, so be it. Mine comes from personal experience.

-- Arik

AnonymousJune 10, 2005 5:54 AM

Wonder if the image is detailed enough that scanning a child would be considered as producing child pornography?

EileenJune 10, 2005 6:43 AM

...Aside from the usual list of pro-privacy and pro-liberty groups, I expect fundamentalist Christian groups to be appalled by this technology...

Nah, they'd just think it was practice for "the rapture". :D

MihaiJune 10, 2005 6:53 AM

I apologize for following the digression, but I couldn’t help it.

"">My first point is this: "We" are different than "Them". "We" is us, the western civilization, and "Them" is Al Qaeda, their proponents and supporters.""
I come from Romania, kind of an eastern country. I don’ t consider myself part of the « western civilization », I consider myself an individual with the ability to think for himself and who doesn’t like being labeled. To which group do I belong, then ?

---

"">The differences between "Us" and "Them" goes beyond geography. I know that this is difficult to accept, and you may as well call me a racist, but as someone who has grown in an area of conflict, and is exposed to the world view of the involved parties, I can discern a difference in the morality of people from both sides.""

First point. Morality has been changing from before the word was invented. It never stopped adapting to reality and to current society needs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morality). I don’t think I have to remind you what morality meant for the western civilization a few hundred years ago.
Second Point : Generalist statements like "difference in the morality of people from both sides " just don’t mean anything in my view. You can never judge an individual based on the actions of a group, of others, this is the root of racism.

---

"">"We" put a very high value on human lives, which is deeply ingrained in our culture. Moreover, we put the same (or similar) value on lives of other people in other cultures. And to top it off, we believe that moral values are, to an extent, compatible among those other cultures. Surely the utmost value of human life is uniform among all cultures. Like Sting's song: "I hope the Russians love their children too".""

On putting value on human life, just one more argument if you’re not convinced by the others before me : go see « Hotel Rwanda » to see a proof of value put on human lie by western civilization in one occasion. I think the « western civilization » puts more value on money than anything else.

---

"">Well, "They" don't share our morality, and don't share our endearment of human life. In "Their" world, not all human life has the same value. Moreover, it is acceptable, under some conditions, to terminate your own life for some purpose. It is a legitimate act, if in that act you are advancing some higher purpose. There are parallels in "our" culture - like attacking the enemy in the battlefield to gain advancement while risking life and limb - only in "their" culture the reward for these actions is pretty selfish, and is greater if you actually die.""

Just a theoretical point. The value put on human lives does not label a culture more or less moral. A good example is the Aztec civilizations where human sacrifices were a normal practice. This doesn’t mean I agree wit this view, I just don’t judge based on that.

….

I think the main problem regarding terrorism and the fundamentalist views is that people are being manipulated, indoctrinated. If you help individuals develop a free way of thinking, a way to realize and accept our differences and similarities that as unique persons, you may be able to solve this problem. An approach based on separating between « us » and « them » will never work, as it will segregate groups even more. In our “western civilization��? manipulation is done by the media and politics. In the case of terrorists is done by proposing a higher purpose in life to people who sometimes have no way of finding another. I think what we should do, besides taking measures directly against terrorist groups, is try to see where their support comes from and why, and try to change that.
Now back to x-rays. The problem of the use of this technology it’s that it follows a long list of measures which limit individual freedom, including privacy, measures that many people consider neither necessary nor effective. America is turning little by little into a paranoid state, which sees threats everywhere and treats every stranger as a potential criminal(why do they need my fingerprints upon entering american soil ?). I don’t like that. 20 years ago, my home country was communist and we were all “expecting��? the Americans to free us. Nowadays, America doesn’t symbolize freedom for me and it’s beginning to stand for the opposite.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Article 12:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

ArikJune 10, 2005 9:19 AM

@Mihai

"I don’ t consider myself part of the « western civilization », I consider myself an individual with the ability to think for himself and who doesn’t like being labeled. To which group do I belong, then ?"

Not liking a label doesn't stop people from labeling you. In my opinion your actions and beliefs determine which group you belong to. Using the word pair "western civilization" was in poor taste and I regret that.

"Morality has been changing from before the word was invented."

I fully agree and refer to today's morality. Sorry I wasn't clear.

"I don’t think I have to remind you what morality meant for the western civilization a few hundred years ago."

"You can never judge an individual based on the actions of a group, of others, this is the root of racism."

"go see « Hotel Rwanda » to see a proof of value put on human lie by western civilization in one occasion. I think the « western civilization » puts more value on money than anything else."

I should never have used "western civilization" in the definition. It was a mistake. I wrote this at 2AM my time. I'm referring to the body of people who share the morality I defined in my comment, and define the "We" group membership by the beliefs and actions of the individuals.

"Just a theoretical point. The value put on human lives does not label a culture more or less moral. A good example is the Aztec civilizations where human sacrifices were a normal practice. This doesn’t mean I agree with this view, I just don’t judge based on that."

I wasn't judging "them". I just don't like the implications of "Their" morality applied on myself. Had you been alive in the time of the Aztecs, with your current world view, I bet you would resent being sacrificed.

"If you help individuals develop a free way of thinking, a way to realize and accept our differences and similarities that as unique persons, you may be able to solve this problem."

Isn't that just an attempt to enforce your values on people with a different view? But I agree with your conclusion and the rest of what you said.

SegfaultJune 10, 2005 10:11 AM

i think the only good i can see in this is that if the stewardesses got the results of this scan, there may be an increase in the members to the mile-high club.

MihaiJune 10, 2005 10:24 AM

@Arik


Isn't that just an attempt to enforce your values on people with a different view?

I see it more as explaining your values to others. The word impose has a "authority: force" factor in it. Of course I start from the hypothesis that "we could all get along"

The polemics surrounding imposing values on others could go on forever. Every possible change you could try on the education system for example could be potentially labeled as imposing values. However, I think remaining stuck in this polemics will not improve anything.

The only solution to the antagonistic values problem, as I see it, is respect for the values of others and the value of freedom, as in "the freedom to do what you want as long as you don't hurt others", above all.

jammitJune 10, 2005 10:24 AM

If I may put words in Arik's mouth, I believe Arik is trying to say that "we" and "them" are generic. There are many Muslims and Christians (and Jewish, Wiccan, ETC) who are cool about stuff, and just as many who aren't. There really isn't any differences in both sides (although, there are more than two sides). The bad Christian is the same jerk as a bad Muslim (bad Jewish, bad Wiccan, bad ETC). Other than that, I don't really have a comment on the backscatter x-ray and I'm sorry for being off topic.

DonJune 10, 2005 10:27 AM

I realize I am less concerned about people seeing my bare ass than most folks but I have to say, if you can get off on looking at that hairless low-detail blue fuzzy photo this thing yields, complete with odd images where buttons, zippers and belt buckles are.... more power to you. If you could identify one supermodel from another based on those images I'd be amazed.

jammitJune 10, 2005 10:29 AM

Perhaps I do have a comment about back scatter x-ray. All of this "war on terrorism" is self feeding. The bad guys scare us, and then we scare ourselves into doing even stupider things. You don't kill a fly with a sledgehammer.

Davi OttenheimerJune 10, 2005 10:41 AM

Back on topic, I noticed that some bloggers are making a correlation between the documented cases of police surveillance camera abuse and the backscatter x-ray.

As others have pointed out above, the regular privacy questions arise about who gets to see your x-ray images, where the images go, and whether they are archived...not to mention how "abuse" will be handled.

I can just imagine the disgust and outrage when someone finds their x-rays posted all over the Internet (like Susan Hallowell, the director of the Transportation Security
Administration's security laboratory):
http://themodulator.org/modulator/images/...

It is not a leap of faith to tie this system to the recent ruling (http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2005/06/us_medical_priv.html) "An authoritative new ruling by the Justice Department sharply limits the government's ability to prosecute people for criminal violations of the law that protects the privacy of medical records."

Granted, this might not necessarily be considered health-care data, but is it possible that TSA agents be able to use these x-ray images with little or no fear of criminal prosecution?

"In short, the department said, people who work for an entity covered by the federal privacy law are not automatically covered by that law and may not be subject to its criminal penalties"

StephenJune 10, 2005 11:59 AM

Here's a simple solution: don't submit to these scans. If no one will be scanned, these won't be sold. I've refused to fly for years, but I bet plenty of people who are admittedly against these invasive searches continue to fly despite them.

Everyone who cares needs to stand up to their boss, their family, and say "I can't fly to that conference/wedding and here's why..." See if you can't get even one other person to join your effort.

Tim VailJune 10, 2005 12:17 PM

@Stephen

I applaud your decision to never fly. But, for some people, that it too big of a tradeoff to make. So, we are trying to make that tradeoff smaller by other means.

Clive RobinsonJune 10, 2005 12:19 PM

@Bruce

I am not sure what you mean by "low energy" and "High energy" X-Rays in your intro.

All X-Rays irespective of their energy levels will penetrate human flesh and yes they are ionizing so will potentialy cause permanent damage to your DNA.

Most back-scatter stuff that is in use that does not effect living tissue uses non-ionising radiation (ie is of a much lower frequency not energy). Often this is in the high microwave or low frequency IR bands or a combination of both, in some cases it uses ultra sound but this also has some question over it these days with regards posible living tissue damage due to cavitation effects (akin to miners white finger).

Most moden garments are made of either synthetic materials or treated vegtable / animal products. The result is that unlike human beings they have a very low water content (more importantly -OH).

On problem of using lower frequency is that the resolving power is reduced with frequency, so at some point all objects become effectivly invisable as the frequency is reduced (for human size or less the frequency is in the usable radio spectrum).

MikeJune 10, 2005 2:59 PM

When I first heard about this technology they were exploring remapping the generated image of the person onto a very generic blob-like human form and filtering the image to hide fine details of the human form. This would prevent the airport screeners from becoming the patrons of a federally funded peepshow. This approach does seem likely reduce most of the privacy concerns but it still doesn’t address the cost of the machines which as Bruce pointed out takes funds away from the real dangers to airport security.

apbiancoJune 10, 2005 3:47 PM

In protest, we'll strip naked before proceeding through security checks -- and we'll be arrested for indecent exposure. Oh, the ironry.

M. SimonJune 11, 2005 12:34 AM

Arik,

We already have analternative to fossil fuel.

Wood.

Impractical you say?

Why, yes.

So realistically for the next 100 years of the transition we are going to be using a lot of fossil stuff.

Which is why have a war and not have a "Manhattan" style energy program. The war will end sooner than the transition.

============

If there was a solution ready for production tomorrow it would take 20 or 30 years to roll out in America. 75 years for the whole world.

============

So we are fighting a war and letting nature take its course. Which ultimately is likely to lead to a better system.

============

I'm sorry there are no easy answers.


M. SimonJune 11, 2005 12:58 AM

Arturo Quirantes,

Of course we are all the same.

Some of just have different values. Like that Hitler feller and the people who followed him.

Ya see it all comes down to how to handle alpha male succession. Buy vote or by violence.

The guys we are up against think violence is nature's and especially God's way. And of course they are right. In history voting is rare and violence common.

So the voters have to be prepared to do violence to keep the violencers at bay until they die off or change their minds.

So sad.

In fact the peace we live in in the developed world is unnatural. Any thing that is unnatural (the lowest energy state) requires maintenance to keep it functioning. We are right now doing some heavy maintenance to convert the low energy state to a higher state.

It is hard. It hurts.

But when you are dealing with folks who want Andalusia back with the world united under the one true god ruled by the World Kalif(or the Thousand Year Reich of the Master Race) there may be no other way.

M. SimonJune 11, 2005 1:09 AM

Forgive me Arturo,

It was Anon. above you I was replying to.

And it should read:

Of course we are all the same.

Some of just have different values. Like that Hitler feller and the people who followed him.

Ya see it all comes down to how to handle alpha male succession. By vote or by violence.

--------------

Of course buy vote happens too. Still generally (not always) better than violence.

M. SimonJune 11, 2005 1:16 AM

You know I believe the reason some people don't get it is that in their reality the world started 50 years ago.

For those younger than that it started at birth.

M. SimonJune 11, 2005 1:21 AM

Mihai,

Was it wise of the United Nations to impose its values on a certain nation in the middle of Europe from 1939-45?

I'm just askin.

M. SimonJune 11, 2005 1:25 AM

Mihai,

You know what happens when you respect some one's freedom and they don't respect yours?

Such things have actually happened on a historical scale once or twice. Not too long ago I'm told. Like maybe last week.

What's a feller to do?

Roy OwensJune 12, 2005 8:21 PM

See 'Nature', Vol 435, 26 May 2005, page 439, 'Rare items often missed in visual searches'. Think that through, then imagine the difficulty of finding a target when distracted by looking at naked ladies for an entire eight hour shift.

Male screeners will be looking at the ladies only, looking past the men, so the male passengers will pass through unscreened. A shapely woman could walk through with a gun in each hand without the guns being noticed.

Any officials supporting this technology can prove their faith in it by volunteering to be imaged by it, with all such images being posted on the internet so that any skeptics can review it for themselves.

To counter this idiocy, the city or county having jurisdiction over that airport can have the local police post their people at these machines. The moment any screener looks at a realtime image of a naked body, or copies the image to a file, the cops arrest the perpetrator as a peeping tom, slap him in cuffs, give him a perp walk to a cage car, and take him downtown for booking -- and add him to the growing list of registered sex offenders.

Jim DuncanJune 13, 2005 11:11 AM

In the 60s and 70s people got rich investing in real estate. In the 90s people made out in the stock market. In this decade it seems the road to wealth is selling stupid security systems to stupid bureaucrats.

AnonymousJune 14, 2005 3:16 AM

B.Lee: "Therefore, what's prevented them from doing so to this point?"

They didn't ... we are well within the statistics (http://www.planecrashinfo.com/cause.htm ).

I would count 9/11 as ONE incident (as it was actually one distributed attack) ... but even as it is it looks not too bad compared to the 80s.

We just have to wait a little bit. To have the greatest impact a terrorist has to wait till people feel save again. Its no use plotting something and everybody says "we knew it" afterwards. Give us some time to stop running around like headless hens and some terrorist will come along and pick its target.

I would not care about an increase in terrorist attacks, its still something which happens to other people (for most of them).

What I will NOT do though, is taking my children on a plane ... apart from giving the "porno share junkies" a real incentive to attack the screening system (after all it does not make much difference wether you really got a nude picture of bush's daughter, its enough if you claim it is one) my problem is that I simply don't know which disadvantages my children will have in 10 or 20 years time because of some ancient mangled database. It is up to them to decide, I can no longer take the responsibility in that regard as the government policies are no longer a sound factor which you can trust for such a long period.

ahoh

nathanJune 16, 2005 2:36 PM

now's your chance to make the big bucks selling a line of tin-foil underwear!

KizzumeJune 28, 2005 12:34 PM

U.S. companies haven't really cared about people's health (but they do care how much money they can make from people's poor health), so why will they care about the effects of radiation over a period of 10 years?

Look at what drugs (prescription OR street) are legal and illegal, or food additives, or cigarettes, or how the FDA became corrupted when Rumsfeld had the decent high-morality head of the FDA fired to be replaced by someone who would approve his aspartame product (made by Searle, which Rumsfeld headed) which failed several times previously.

Why should companies care whether people over a period of 10 years get cancer from radiation from their products? If it doesn't kill someone or cause damage to someone right away, it's legal, and once people do find it does damage to people after 10 years, it will take 10 more years to do anything about it, if anything at all--they may just say and get away with it, "It's still not a significant risk and I make regular flights.". We're a nation founded by snake oil salesmen, slave owners, and religious fenatics, what else should we expect than this Backscatter technology to become a standard?

Airports are the LEAST likely place that terrorists will attack next. It's like how Jack in the Box was the safest place to eat after the E-Coli scare happened. They saw holes in the system that were easy to exploit, and the next attack will be the same way--through holes in the system that are easy to exploit. If we were thinking about homeland security we wouldn't even be bothering with adding more airport security than the changes we made a year after the attacks.

Drinking water (some cities still idiotically have open water resivoirs), bridges, seaport security, fixing the CIA and FBI and allowing all info to be swapped back and forth between, there are so many other things that money could be better spent on for increasing homeland security.

Why would any terrorist in their right mind try to use the airline industry as a means of attacking us again--at least on a large scale like 9/11? I mean COME ON PEOPLE!! They're NOT stupid!

As far as seeing people naked--if someone can get off on seeing pictures of blue bald people with clothing indents and no truly distinguishable facial features, those people can get their rocks off pretty easily--I mean if they can get off on that, they could get off from watching cheap 3d rendered graphics of humans before hair, facial features, or clothing are added. I'm sorry, it just seems silly to me to be worried about the whole privacy thing when those images look like they do--if we truly live in a culture that people are THAT scared of the human body and people are THAT uncomfortable with themselves, we have a lot more to worry about than terrorists.

DiannJune 30, 2005 4:04 PM

@ Kizzume
I agree with most of what you say except your last paragraph. I don’t think it has as much to do with people being scared of the human body or uncomfortable with themselves. I am very comfortable with my body, what I am not comfortable with is some of the people in this world that get off on the strangest of things. I DO NOT trust strange men that I do not know! You don’t think that someone would get off on “blue bald people with clothing indents��? I guarantee you are wrong. There are people who get off on a lot of really silly things and if it has outlines of breasts there is going to be some little weird guy who will get off on that. Have you seen the security people at the airport? I am a female that has had inappropriate comments made to her by these same people that will be reviewing these images. I will refuse to fly when this goes into effect. I understand Tim Vail’s comment “that it is too big of a trade off to make.��? Luckily, it is a sacrifice I would be able to make. I worry for those that it will have an effect on, the people who fly as part of their job or who have family overseas. I worry about the people that might have their image sold and posted on the Internet. Once again, have you seen the security people at the airport????

imprisonedAugust 21, 2005 1:05 PM

wow... i will seriously never fly again. The first time i walk into an airport and see one of those machines....i'm outta there. i work with the public and happen to have a few customers who are airport screeners. i'd tear up my ticket before being seen "naked" by those people- even if it is only for a minute.

HelenNovember 14, 2005 1:14 PM

I went through LHR Terminal 4 a couple of weeks ago and was "invited" to use this scanner. They told me it would take three x-rays of me. I don't know if they would have told me they would be able to see me naked, because I interrupted to ask if I could refuse, and they said I could, so I did. Quite apart from the privacy and freedom issues (which are important to me), why would I want to have three x-rays unnecessarily?

ramsheedApril 5, 2006 5:04 AM

i want a x-ray camera phone. can you please give me an idea how to get it

KhanSeptember 10, 2006 10:35 AM

I am working in the security department. Few years back, one of my senior collegue used to enjoy telling a story to others to my great discomfort which I feel is very much relavant today and needs to be retold.

"Once upon a time there lived a king in his palace and enjoyed the life to its fullest like all those who enjoy the life at others cost. He particularly enjoyed travelling and spent most of his time outdoors.

One day, a security person went up to him and said that he got reliable intelligence information that the enemy is likely to attack him soon and hence he is required to take additional security precautions.

So the king accepted his suggestion to confine himself inside his fort. Later depending upon the increasingly alarming threat perception, the king confined himself to his palace, then to his room, and finally he started sleeping under his bed.

Ultimately, one fine day the king realised that there is no end to this so called security precautions which really does not protect a person if the enemy is determined and ready to kill himself in order to get rid of his enemy.

That was the day, he started breathing fresh air without being scared to death. He started living again and disposed of his so called advisor who put him in such a situation to gain importance for himself.

KhanSeptember 10, 2006 10:36 AM

I am working in the security department. Few years back, one of my senior collegue used to enjoy telling a story to others to my great discomfort which I feel is very much relavant today and needs to be retold.

"Once upon a time there lived a king in his palace and enjoyed the life to its fullest like all those who enjoy the life at others cost. He particularly enjoyed travelling and spent most of his time outdoors.

One day, a security person went up to him and said that he got reliable intelligence information that the enemy is likely to attack him soon and hence he is required to take additional security precautions.

So the king accepted his suggestion to confine himself inside his fort. Later depending upon the increasingly alarming threat perception, the king confined himself to his palace, then to his room, and finally he started sleeping under his bed.

Ultimately, one fine day the king realised that there is no end to this so called security precautions which really does not protect a person if the enemy is determined and ready to kill himself in order to get rid of his enemy.

That was the day, he started breathing fresh air without being scared to death. He started living again and disposed of his so called advisor who put him in such a situation to gain importance for himself.

ddDecember 6, 2006 8:42 AM

"I expect fundamentalist Christian groups to be appalled by this technology."

Maybe so, but what happens when the first devout burqua-wearing Islamic lady is subjected to a scan? If merely having their face seen by the male human eye is intolerable, what about this?

I suppose that this measure might prevent the crime of Flying While Arabic (woman) - they'd presumably just stop.

And then take action under the Human Rights Act, or whatever legislation guarantees religious rights??

eliyahumanDecember 17, 2006 7:00 PM

I don't believe that what we have done so far has protected us from many attacks. The truly dedicated, half smart terrorists are not working by our imagined schedule of possible attacks. They will attack when they see, probably have too, a weakness in our security. I believe that they have. It is our investment in stupid security methods. One particular one is the flood of non-essential data, like keeping files on too many law-abiding citizens, which serves mainly to hide their plots. We have also constructed a clumsy Homeland Security department when what we need is a lean, meaningful cadre of experts in the pre-H.S. intelligence and enforcement departments. We need more trained human intelligence agents who speak Arabic, and other relevant languages, fluently. We need a pragmatic foreign policy; it will encourage other governments to work with us. We need to avoid antagonizing our own citizens. An angry, annoyed, and anxious citizenry will not be alert. From my reading of the news, print, t.v., radio, and internet it seems most plots are disrupted by good old fashion police and intelligence work. Please tell me of a major plot disrupted by these intrusive high tech methods.
I asked a police officer who was guarding the courthouse in my city why he didn't confiscate my Leatherman and Smith & Wesson folding knife. He calmly told me that I wasn't a terrorist or criminal. I trust his 17 years of police experience much more than I trust x-rays or other high tech devices. One of the requirements for TSA checkers should be law enforcement experience. It ain't a perfect solution, but it is better than subjecting all, the majority of which are not terrorists or criminals, to improper and unnecessary searches. Let Bruce take his Leatherman on planes; let my grandmother take her scissors, Leatherman Squirt, and various ablutions and makeup creams on board. Screen for guns and explosives. If you keep the strong cockpit door locked, if you have trained and imaginative undercover agents roaming the airports, if you have uniformed officers with dogs in the airports, if you have an alert citizenry, and if you have TSA agents allowed to use commonsense (like not stopping a baby whose name is on a watch list, etc) you will have done much to make us secure. Put our resources into scholarships and fellowships for the study of foreign languages and cultures.
We may not prevent another attack because of the stupid, for show, security we waste time and money implementing. We may miss the clues for the next attack because of too much data, too much irrelevant data.

cpfoutzJanuary 5, 2007 1:49 PM

I find it amusing that an attack on fundamentalist Christians goes unaddressed, but when our friend from Israel makes much more restrained prejudice remarks about our enemy, he gets pummelled for it. I love how our society victimizes the enemy.

It's this same victimization of the enemy that keeps us from profiling them...which brings us closer to the real answer.

More countries want to destroy Israel than any other, yet they've remained safe (as far as air travel goes). Maybe we should look to their solutions (which in part includes deep profiling) and attitudes to protect ourselves...

SDPMarch 1, 2007 12:55 AM

Ok, so a guy goes to the airport and 'warms' himself up before being scanned. After all, you don't want to appear at less than your best! The operator takes offence at the resultant image and cries 'obscene behaviour'. Who is at fault?

jamesJune 19, 2007 7:07 AM

is it possible to make eye glasses using scattered X rays technology ?

is it possible to make video camera which is using scattered X rays technology ?

By wearing Scattered X rays eye glasses we can see everyone naked.

MaineiacSeptember 18, 2007 10:15 PM

Security on the plane? Got it covered, thanks. I usually try to get a seat at the bulkhead behind first class, on the aisle. Generally I make sure to casually mention to the flight attendant that I am a former law enforcement officer and firefighter/EMT who went to physical therapy school because he was bored and broke. Anything they need help with during the flight, I am available. They should look at me and give me some sort of sign to intervene. Unless I see there is something happening that they cannot signal me, I won't do anything without their signal.

They thank me, and when I sit down I usually notice the others checking me out as everyone gets seated and ready to fly. Thankfully, nothing has ever happened on any flight I have been on, except an extra soda or water, and some pleasant conversation.

I personally don't see highjacking as a viable option in the future for terrorists. That is unless they really do want to die, and fail at that too.

Explosives? Definite threat, and one we must work to counter and defend against.

We have little choice here. The highest levels of security are too expensive to maintain indefinitely. We cannot rely on security to solve the problem, as it is only as strong as its weakest link. There is, ALWAYS, a weakest link.

Examining the differences between "modern western civilization" and "Al Quaeda". One sees that there is no resolution to the differences between the two groups. One of them has got to go the way of the dodo bird, and the quicker the better. I'll lay odds it won't be western civilization...

RussApril 15, 2008 11:56 AM

Could we have a discussion on how a competitive political campaign can be accomplished when the ruling party has access to wire-taps, emails, participants,... No election planning would be private! Right!

Call me a concerned advocate of free, fair elections (no, I'm not that naive). But would like to know how we could reasonably hope for a competitive election where interests might be contrary to ruling party. Thanks,

VovJune 18, 2008 6:18 AM

So have they worked out how to conceal something from one of these scanner's yet?

BridgeNovember 2, 2008 5:43 AM

Did anyone ever think about those unfortunate women having had their breasts removed due to breastcancer or the people who have other non-organic stuff in their body due to medical problems? I am sure breastcancer victims will be more than eager to display their intimate problem to some screener... as will anyone else who wishes to share his personal medical history with some stranger. Why is nobody commenting on this? And how long will it be til the first woman will sue the screeners company for psychological assault? Damn right they should. This no longer is about safety - it's a perverted intrusion into peoples privacy. But of course it is a good thing for medical students who are just helping out at the airport to make some extra cash. Not many will ever get the chance to see the results of serious operations that way. Also: who cares if they don't store pictures? Did you ever think about how quickly you can make a good picture by means of a simply mobile phone???

JenaFebruary 3, 2009 11:40 PM

Whoa, this entire blog is pretty awesome. I'm doing a debate involving the morality issues behind backscatter and other "intrusive airport security" and this information really helped me. Thank-you to everyone who contributed.

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