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Backscatter X-ray ‘naked scanners’ in the news

Security: the use of backscatter x-ray scanners has hit the US press now that the TSA are taking an interest.

These are interesting devices; unlike normal X-rays, they effectively render clothes invisible. That’s obviously got big privacy implications.

Quite a few of the press stories include images that have been blurred or obscured, presumably to render them printable. However, this image seems closer to the real results (not work-safe).

They were trialled in Heathrow’s Terminal 4 last year. One slashdotter’s experience:

Every Nth person in the line had to go through. They take you to a seperate are which is blocked off, make you lift up your arms and then move, facing three different directions. There was one operator and the screen was blocked off. The operator is always the gender of the person being scanned. Still I felt very offended for two reasons. First, even though it was enclosed it still made me feel exposed and my personal space violated, second, any questions I asked the operator with regards to their data storage, or if I could see the images that had been made were met with ignorance and my questions were ignored. However, turning down a scan you would probably get a strip search which would be even worse. I disliked airplane security checks before, but now it is incredibly annoying.

The Times has some passenger’s reactions to images from their scans:

‘I was quite shocked by what I saw,’ said Gary Cook, 40, a graphic designer from Shaftesbury, Dorset. ‘I felt a bit embarrassed looking at the image.’

A female passenger, who did not want to be named, said: ‘It was really horrible. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination because you’re virtually naked, but I guess it’s less intrusive than being hand searched.’

If these are installed more widely, I wonder how long it’ll take before we start seeing backscatter images of supermodels being saved to floppy by unscrupulous staff, and leaked?

Also, SpyBlog notes that images of children scanned with this device would constitute ‘making, distributing or possessing child pornography’ in the UK, presuming the machine stores them internally in electronic form. oops!