Full Body Scanning at Airports Term Paper

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Ethics and Morality

Full Body Scanning at Airports

The approval and the disapproval of the whole body imaging technologies incorporated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at all the major airports, has raised fascinating questions about the technology and its utilization of airport scanners. Put into place as a way of escalating the security in the airports, the airport body scanners have the capability to produce high quality images to find metallic or non-metallic threats. As a matter of fact they have now become a popular substitute to traditional airport security measures, like body searches, commonly referred to as pat downs. Incorporated by the U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA), these naked scanners are used as a technology, to balance or replace other security devices like metal and bomb detectors (Solanki, 2012).

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TSA began deploying these state-of-the-art advanced imaging machines in 2007. This technology can perceive a wide range of threats to transportation security in a matter of seconds to guard passengers and crews. Imaging technology is an integral part of TSA's endeavor to persistently look for new technologies that help make sure travel remains safe and secure by staying ahead of developing threats. TSA utilizes two types of imaging technology, millimeter wave and backscatter. "Currently, there are more than 670 imaging technology units at approximately 170 airports. Advanced imaging technology screening is safe for all passengers and the technology meets national health and safety standards. TSA implemented strict measures to protect passenger privacy which is ensured through the anonymity of the image. Additionally, advanced imaging technology screening is optional for all passengers" (Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), n.d.).

Term Paper on Full Body Scanning at Airports Assignment

"The first full body scanner was developed by Dr. Steven W. Smith, inventor of the Secure 1000 whole body scanner in 1992. Smith sold the scanner and associated patents to Rapiscan Systems, who now manufactures and distributes the device. Rapiscan is just one of three companies that manufacture commercial X-ray devices used as security scanning applications, the other two companies are Tek84 and American Science and Engineering" (Swallow, 2011).

There are two main competing technologies that are being used in the full body scanners - backscatter x-ray and millimeter-wave. Both of these utilize radiation that goes through clothing. In a baggage x-ray system, the device works pretty much like a medical x-ray, with rays going through the bag to a sensor that's then connected to a screen. They use strong radiation, which makes them a health concern. Backscatter body scanners subject one to a far gentler burst of x-rays, and then detect those ones that are bounced back from the body, or objects on a person towards the machine. Hidden packages containing liquid bombs, drugs, or even ceramic knives that would otherwise have passed through metal detectors undetected scatter the x-rays and are shown. Millimeter wave tech uses a similar system, with rays transmitted out to the person and bounced back. But in this case technology borrowed from military radar designs allows for detailed radar images of the body to be created in a computer, and there's no use of x-ray science. Detection of foreign, concealed objects on a body works the same (Eaton, 2009).

Backscatter X-ray scanning uses a thin beam of X-ray that is scanned over the exterior of the body of a person being looked at. X-rays that are scattered or reflected from the person's body are picked by a detector. The signal created by this scattered X-ray detector in then used to transform an image display device to create an image of the subject and any hidden objects carried by the person. Each pixel in the processed image is determined by the concentration of the backscattered signal gathered by the X-ray detector. Since heavy elements backscatter electrons more powerfully than light elements like tissue, organic materials and plastics, they show up in a different way in the processed images. With current technologies, heavy elements show up darker, while light elements appear brighter and as a consequence, hidden weapons, which are frequently made of heavy elements, can be perceived. Millimeter wave scanning works in the same manner, except it uses millimeter waves instead of X-rays. The fundamental difference between the two technologies is that millimeter wave radiation, unlike high frequency X-rays, is not toxic and cannot cause cancer (Swallow, 2011).

The use of full body scanners has sparked great debate since they began being put into place. On one side of the argument are those that say that this is a necessary step in the war on terrorism and that they are perfectly safe and effective. On the other side of the debate though are those that claim the scanners are ineffective, harmful and an invasion of privacy. First, many people don't like the idea of having photos of their naked bodies taken by any means. In addition, there are a number of stories of abuse and leaked images, which doesn't help in that regard. Second, because x-rays involve ionizing radiation, many people have health concerns. All one has to do is look at public response to new nuclear power plants and the public reception of sunscreens in order to understand these concerns, even if experts and the TSA say the machines are safe. The third problem is the perception that it is much ado about nothing and that the TSA represents Security Theater rather than actual security. This idea first took hold because the TSA has not customarily been very proactive. A terrorist had to bring explosives in the soles of his shoes before the TSA scanned shoes. A terrorist had to bring in innocent-looking liquids to mix a bomb in the air before liquids were prohibited. And likewise printer cartridges were not banned until explosives showed up in them (Brain, 2012).

According to the TSA there are firm privacy safeguards built into the basis of the use of advanced imaging technology in order to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity. The TSA is always looking for new technology that meets security standards while enhancing existing confidentiality safeguards. TSA recently put in new software on all millimeter wave imaging technology machines. These upgrades were intended to improve privacy by getting rid of passenger-specific images and instead auto-detecting possible threats and signifying their position on a generic outline of a person. Areas acknowledged as containing probable threats will necessitate additional screening. The generic is indistinguishable for all passengers. If no possible threat items are perceived, an OK appears on the screen and the passenger is sent on (Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), n.d.).

By getting rid of the picture of an actual passenger and replacing it with a generic outline of a person, passengers are able to look at the same outline that the TSA officer sees. In addition, a separate TSA officer is no longer necessary to view the image in a distantly positioned viewing room. By taking away this step of the procedure, screening is more proficient and throughput potential of the technology is enhanced. For units that do not yet have the new software, TSA has taken all labors to make sure passenger confidentiality. To that end, the officer who assists the passenger never sees the image the technology produces and the officer who views the image is distantly located in a secure resolution room and never sees the passenger. The two officers converse via wireless headset. Advanced imaging technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically erased from the system after it is cleared by the distantly located security officer. Officers looking at images are not allowed to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room. In order to additionally protect passenger privacy, backscatter technology has a privacy filters that blur images (Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), n.d.).

These machines are anywhere near perfect however as numerous legal and ethical issues have arisen from using them. The full body scanners received a great deal of negative media attention when a man assaulted a co-worker based on jokes that arose from the images that the machines produced. There is no doubt that this technology can be troublesome if mishandled. After all, the scanners reveal a person's basic body structure, including the dimensions of private areas. This is not the only issue however that arises from the use of full body scanners in airports (Smith, n.d.).

As with most things, the talk of whether or not this technology should continue to be implemented comes down to money. Each machine sets the government back about $150,000 which means that's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket. A lot of food could be purchased for the starving people of the nation with that amount of money and many believe that buying such expensive equipment is a mismanagement of government funds. Although a great deal of harmful materials can be detected using full body scanners, a great deal of the population believes that the government purchasing extremely expensive equipment that can prove invasive and shoots radiation into your body is a bad idea. On… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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