Advanced Imaging Technology in Airports:
Freedom vs. Security
A Flagrant Violation of Human Rights
This study determined that Advanced Imaging Technology (aka Full Body Scanning) is neither effective nor necessary in America’s airports. In fact, it was found to be detrimental to the health of travelers’ who pass through the scanners, and is also a gross violation of the personal privacy and freedom of our citizens. Furthermore, our studies find that this technology is exceedingly fallible, and does not protect us from harm.
Our study was based on the recent local controversy at Orlando International Airport. Advanced Imaging Technology was installed there in 2010. Amidst numerous reports that some scanned images were saved and distributed to unauthorized viewers, we felt this technological controversy needed to be addressed.
Our methods included meticulous research into the Transportation and Safety Administration (TSA), as well as other government entities such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). We also referenced the websites of several news organizations, which provided us with critical instances in which these scanners violated the privacy and health of our citizens. In addition, we have included several important videos that will visually reaffirm why Advanced Imaging Technology is unnecessary.
The data collected is significant because it shows just how ineffective and dangerous Advanced Imaging Technology really is. The government should never subject its citizens and international travelers to such infringements of freedom; there is a better way.
Central Question: Why must the freedom of American citizens be violated in order to protect us from terrorism?
Answer: It mustn’t.
It is no secret that a major controversy among American citizens in our world today is the topic of Advanced Imaging Technology at airports. The attacks of September 11, 2001 forced our government to raise our airport security to another level. Some of these new methods are now being questioned. Who wants to have their privacy invaded and their sense of freedom taken away, especially if the new form of security may now be as insecure as we think? With it proven that weapons can still be passed through this new level of security, it makes you less enthused about revealing your naked self to a complete stranger. Not to mention these new scanners can have a harmful effects on your body both mentally and physically. This document will explain the history of our security in airports and the effects it has on Americans in regards to security, health and privacy.
History of Airport Security
We can all remember a time when airport security consisted of a metal detector and a security officer standing at the door. Back then, there was far less to worry about with regards to airline security as opposed to today. Due to the terrorist actions that occurred on September 11, 2001, we have seen a drastic change in what we call airport security. This extra precaution taken in airports has increasingly attracted controversy among American citizens. We as Americans love our freedom and will question authority anytime the littlest bit is taken from us. The time is now.
The Federal Aviation Agency
The Federal Aviation Agency was historically responsible for security in airports. The FAA began with the start of the commercial airline industry. The Air Mail Act of 1925 allowed for the commercialization of passenger transportation as a service. This agency was involved in every aspect of this industry from air traffic control to safety and even technological innovation, according to their official website.
The Beginning of Airline Security
Security was not as much of an issue in the earlier years of the commercial airline industry, simply due to the fact that we did not see as much of a security threat in those days. In 1961, the country saw its first airplane hijacking. This event caught the attention of our nation, and at this time there was a definite need to formally address the topic of airline safety. As a result of this incident, President Kennedy signed an amendment with the Federal Aviation Agency (later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration) that made it illegal to hijack an aircraft, interfere with an active flight crew, or carry a dangerous weapon aboard an air carrier aircraft. To this day, many people say that the idea of pilots not carrying a firearm gave the terrorists an advantage when the hijackings took place on September 11. (www.faa.gov)
In the years that followed, airports began screening passengers as they entered the terminals. This screening was much less intensive compared to the tactics used today. Passengers were only required to show one form of identification and were asked if they had packed their own bags or if they had left their possession since doing so. From here, passengers were able to continue onto the gate after passing through a simple metal detector. During this era, passengers were allowed to carry sharp objects such as pens and knifes, which is much different than the situation today.
After some time, agents began testing the limits of airport security. In 1999, an agent slipped past a worker and a metal detector with a weapon strapped to her ankle. Further FAA research showed that from 1998 to 2000, there were at least seven cases where an unattended or unsecured door allowed agents to slip past security and even in one case, board a plane. (www.archives.californiaaviation.org).
The Attacks of September 11
On September 11, 2001, our country watched as the most tragic terrorist attack involving aviation happened before our eyes. The concern for airline safety exponentially grew among Americans. The FAA was forced to ground all airline traffic except for authorized traffic in order to remove the Bin Laden family from the country. (Moore)
The Transportation Security Administration
The Aviation and Transportation Security Act was passed by the 107th Congress on November 19, 2001. This established the beginning of the Transportation Security Administration, better known as the TSA. According to their official website, this act gave the TSA three major mandates: (1) Responsibility for the security of all modes of transportation, (2) The responsibility to recruit, assess, hire, train and deploy Security Officers for all commercial airports, and (3) To provide 100 percent screening of all checked luggage for explosives by December 31, 2002. This began the controversy of Freedom vs. Security. (www.tsa.gov)
After the introduction of the TSA, the general security guidelines changed from what we were used to in the past. Passengers were now allowed to carry on only one bag and there was a new list of restricted items. Passengers were no longer able to carry any sort of sharp objects, tools, liquids of a certain amount, or anything that could start a fire or explode. This limitation stirred up some commotion among Americans as they strived to keep every bit of their freedom. The TSA has continuously increased its methods of screening since then. We have recently been introduced to Advanced Imaging Technology in over 400 airports across the country. This has become one of the most controversial topics of the decade with regards to freedom and the world of technology. Many Americans question this controversial screening device in terms of health, privacy, and effectiveness of security, as evidenced in our research below. (www.airsafe.com)
Key Issue: Security
A crucial question surrounding the September 11 investigation is how 19 hijackers bypassed security checkpoints with multi-function hand tools and one form or another of a noxious chemical spray in tow. Indeed, the security breaches bring questions of checkpoint practices and effectiveness to the forefront. How did these terrorists pass through undetected resulting in almost 3,000 innocent fatalities?
Historically, terrorists have always targeted airports and aircraft. From the first recorded attack in the 1930’s through the mid-1960’s airport security received little to no attention. However, “attacks against civil aviation rose rapidly in the 1967-1976 decade”, prompting the development of the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to oversee regulatory practices and procedures with regards to civil aviation. (Wells, 297)
The Anti-hijacking and Air Transportation Security Act of 1974 “required carriers to institute 100 percent screening of passenger and carry-on items, and for airport operators to station at least one law enforcement officer at each passenger checkpoint during boarding and pre-boarding.” In addition, Red Teams—as they are known—were used as a means to expose potential security breaches. (Wells, 302)
“A red team is a group of penetration testers that assess the security of an organization, which is often unaware of the existence of the team or the exact assignment. Red teams provide a more realistic picture of the security readiness than exercises, role playing, or announced assessments. Red teams may trigger active controls and countermeasures in effect within a given operational environment.” The FAA has been implementing red teams since the Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Red teams conduct tests at about 100 US airports annually. Tests were on hiatus after September 11, 2001 and resumed in 2003. (Wikipedia)
TSA’s Layered Security Approach
TSA’s security operations are based on ‘Layers’ (see chart). According to their website, checkpoints “constitute only one security layer of the many in place to protect aviation.” Others include intelligence gathering and analysis, behavior detection, federal and local task forces, federal air marshals, and many others, “both visible and invisible to the public”. It is questionable however as to why the TSA places so much emphasis on the ‘Checkpoint Screening Technology’ layer, instead of placing equal emphasis on the others.
Even after the terrible events of September 11, x-ray machines in particular have repeatedly failed to detect weaponry. In 2009, Iranian-American businessman Farid Seif “passed through security at a Houston airport and boarded an international flight. He didn’t realize he had forgotten to remove the loaded snub nose baby Glock pistol from his computer bag.” TSA officers x-rayed the bag containing the pistol but failed to detect the weapon. Seif was “shocked to discover the gun traveled unnoticed” and alerted Homeland Security Officials upon returning to Houston. TSA consequently issued a statement saying they were “aware of the incident and had taken steps to address it.” (abcnews.go.com)
Commence ‘Advanced Imaging Technology’, a supposed ‘foolproof’ method in detection of bombs and other weapons. The TSA began installing these machines in airports nationwide in 2010. The machines are often hailed as infallible. Labeled by a former head of security at American Airlines as a “dismal failure”, this type of technology frequently misses weapons and other types of potential threats.
Earlier this year, an undercover TSA agent passed through security at a major airport “carrying a handgun during testing of new enhanced-imaging body scanners.” The agent tucked the pistol in her underwear and walked through the scanner at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, cleared by TSA agents to board her airplane. The TSA maintains however that body imaging scanners are “an effective tool to detect both metallic and non-metallic items hidden on passengers.” (dailymail.co.uk)
A 2007 government audit leaked to USA Today however “revealed that undercover agents were successful in slipping simulated explosives and bomb parts through Los Angeles’s LAX airport in 50 out of 70 attempts, and at Chicago’s O’Hare airport agents made 75 attempts and succeeded in getting through undetected 45 times.” (abcnews.go.com)
According to the TSA website, the salary for a ‘Transportation Security Officer’ utilizes pay bands D & E. The starting annual salary in such bands averages a mere $27,410. Perhaps a better use of the money allotted for our Nation’s security could be passed on to the people who actually do the job. Perhaps passing that job onto a piece of equipment increases our chances of danger. (tsa.gov)
We must seriously consider the benefits of low technology security applications such as ‘Airport Information Sharing’ and task forces aimed at providing names and faces of known terrorists. We must invest in these technologies no matter what the cost, instead of placing the lives of Americans in the hands of a machine. We must train our agents so as to deter and capture potential terrorists, instead of relying on technologies that clearly have high rates of failure. “Neither the existence nor the purchase of the latest technologies ensures security. All technologies are fallible, in one capacity or another. The responsible deployment, training, and use of these systems are critical to realize their significant potential.” (Seidenstat, 10) (cia.gov)
Key Issue: Health
One of the most controversial topics with regards to technology is more than likely located in your very own airport. In fact, it can be more detrimental than anyone realizes. It has not been taken into consideration, by many, in a very serious tone. There are many issues surrounding Advanced Imaging Technology in airports. While there are many problems in regards to this topic, one of the main issues is the harmful effects that these machines have on everyone’s health. According to gizmodo.com, “There are nearly 400 different full body scanners at over 68 airports nationwide and every single one of them can have an effect on your overall health”. It could damage your health mentally as well as physically. (gizmodo.com)
When full body scanners were first placed into airports, the images that were taken from the scans were ‘accidently’ released. It is still unknown who or why they were leaked to the public. However, the fact that innocent people knew that images of their naked bodies had been released has done enough damage in itself. According to CNN.com, “They claim that all identifiable features are hidden, but the idea that someone has access to what your naked body looks like without your clothes on is a high sense of invasiveness”. It is mentally damaging and inappropriate on more levels than one. At this rate, within the next twenty or thirty years, they will incorporate seeing identifiable features into being legal. Many people have suggested the option of having the images set in a much lower resolution. However, if the resolution is low enough to not detect any aspect of visual nudity, and/or full-frontals, then are these supposedly helpful machines really helping to detect weapons that they cannot even see? There is some amount of unreliability in the idea of these machines that expose our bodies to people we don’t even know. The government claims that there is no way to print or save any images from the body scanners, but there are millions of pictures of random, innocent people all over the internet just waiting to be viewed. What is the world coming to that we censor everything on television and movies, but when real-life personal violation occurs to innocent people, the situation is all of a sudden moral and just? (www.cnn.com)
There are also factors involving one’s physical health from these machines. Many medical experts believe that these machines can be very dangerous. The reason for the potential physical health problems from the scans are because of the radiation that beams off of the x-rays onto innocent people. According to studyhealth.com, “The United States Transportation Security Administration addressed the question of additional x-ray exposure and stated that the machines emit doses that are not large, but that releasing them can be harmful over time.” Releasing harmful rays onto your body is not healthy in any way, shape, or form. Originally, Advanced Imaging Technology was used only as a last resort in medical instances. An example might have been finding a tumor in a cancerous patient. The idea of radiation was never intended to leave the medical field and the same goes for x-rays on the entire human form. As a nation, we are becoming more medically advanced every day. We should be able to come up with something that is safe for human-beings to use for their health as well as being safe for their overall well-being in an airport. Surely there is a better alternative than radiation for safety. (studyhealth.com)
After the tragic events of September 11, it is perfectly reasonable to advance safety precautions at airports. The experience of flying in an airplane should feel as comfortable and safe as possible; after all, you pay a lot of money to get to your destination whether you are flying for business or pleasure. Safety is definitely at the top of the list with regards to importance. This is why it is so important to remember that safety for your health is also something to take into consideration. We all have to understand that avoiding more tragedies is of the utmost importance, but is it necessary to risk everyone’s lives? It seems superfluous to have to see underneath someone’s clothing in order to detect weaponry or illegal substances. There is a real need for creating a type of scanner, similar to that of a metal detector, which can recognize dangerous objects in order to ensure the safety of all who travel—without giving off radiation. Metal detectors have a high rate of success, but it also takes a trained eye to assist in the detection of weapons and bombs. The combination of training paired with safe scanning methods will produce a system which is not detrimental to the health of our citizens. Safety is obviously critical, but the health and welfare of our fellow Americans is crucial.
Key Issue: Privacy
We live in a perfect world where everyone gets along and no one has any negative thoughts or feelings towards anyone else. Right? Unfortunately, no. There is so much anger, hostility, and violence going on the world these days that extreme measures need to be taken to truly ensure our safety. There are new privacy rules popping up all over the place for any and everything we use. Fingerprinting devices have been installed into the newest computers, permits for a building will not be issued unless there are a certain number of security cameras, and you certainly can’t create any type of online account without entering multiple passwords and/or security questions. What happened to the days where everyone left their front doors wide open, slept with the windows ajar, and didn’t have a panic attack if they forgot to lock their car doors? Those days are unfortunately long gone. In the society that we live in today, there are more people that you cannot trust than the amount of people that you can trust, and that is sad.
Results of September 11
After the tragic September 11 attacks on New York City, security in airports has really stepped up. Ensuring our safety is a noble thing and it is always great to be cautious, but where do we draw the line? As airport security began to increase, a lot of rules changed. According to TSA.gov, "We are always looking for new technology and procedures that will both enhance security while strengthening privacy protections.” Unfortunately, however, many people feel as if their “privacy protections” are not being considered at all. In fact, a majority of people feel the complete opposite. (tsa.gov)
As a result of full-body scanners being placed into airports nationwide, the discrepancy between Advanced Imaging Technology and an individual’s privacy began. Based on research, it is proven that there are many different opinions on this controversial topic. For example, many religious groups feel very enraged, and believe the scanners intrude upon their personal privacy and integrity. Arbiter Online says, “The scanners are also a concern for people whose religion requires modesty and bodily privacy. A British Muslim woman and her female friend traveling with her were prevented from boarding their flights at Manchester Airport in February 2010 after they refused to be scanned. Muslims aren’t the only ones who are worried. Pope Benedict XVI recently expressed concern that the scanners may violate human dignity.” Although Americans do understand that airport security is aimed toward safety, many feel that it violates personal freedom and privacy. (www.arbiteronline.com)
Personal Searches of Children
Many parents feel as if their children shouldn’t be violated this way and that there must be a better way to encourage and enforce security. There was a case where a twelve year old child was subjected to a random pat-down procedure and then asked to walk thru the full-body scanner at his local airport. The child was not only scared, but the parents were extremely outraged and offended by the situation. Why subject a child to this mental torture?
According to Sidlow and Henschen, most government actions involve inefficiency and some people believe that in spite of these inefficiencies, homeland security is worth every penny and any expense to privacy, dignity or anything else is just the cost of safety. The images that are scanned onto the computer screens as a result of Advanced Imaging Technology are very clear and revealing. Many people are concerned that the images are either going to land in the “wrong” hands, or that the “wrong” eyes will be looking at these images. People have fears about the images being saved, leaked, or put out for the public to see—-which is extremely embarrassing and publicly humiliating. In most societies, nudist colonies are frowned up and even banned, but is the thought of these images being leaked the same concept? Many people question this exact notion. For a handful of unfortunate Florida airport-goers, their fears became a reality in November 2010. Over one hundred passenger images were leaked onto Gizmodo.com. They write, “The TSA and other government agencies have repeatedly touted the quality of Advanced Imaging Technology while simultaneously assuring customers that operators cannot store, transmit, or save the images. They state that the images are, of course, immediately deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer.” The airport scanners see thousands of people a day, so one would imagine it would be easy for a security officer to skip over deleting a few images if they are in a hurry or if the line is backed up. (gizmodo.com)
The Thin Line
There are many different viewpoints on whether or not full-body scanners are a violation of personal privacy. Some say that our safety is not even in our hands, others say that we are taking too many drastic precautionary measures and that we are not focusing on the obvious things. Others say that safety is the number one priority at any cost—-but is there a point where the cost becomes too high? The fact is there is a difference between ensuring safety and invading privacy. There is a line that needs to be drawn to differentiate between the two. The current situation is simply not right. We need to draw that line now.
There will always be two sides to a controversy, but it seems that many Americans have found this change in airport security to be a little too aggressive. Whether it is an invasion of privacy or damage to our health, these scanners have Americans worried. The bottom line is safety, and if Advanced Imaging Technology is proving to be anything but, perhaps we should look past the fancy equipment and into the future of true innovation.
A Brief History of the FAA. faa.gov. Accessed March 26, 2011. <http://www.faa.gov/about/history/brief_history/>
Airport Security Before 9/11. californiaaviation.org. Accessed March 16, 2011.
Airport Security Issues. airsafe.com. Accessed March 16, 2011. <http://www.airsafe.com/issues/security.htm>
Before 9/11. thinkquest.org. Accessed March 16, 2011. <http://library.thinkquest.org/TQ0311600/Before911Page.htm>
Calls for Full-Body Scanners Re-Ignite Privacy Concerns. foxnews.com. Accessed March 27, 2011. <http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/12/31/calls-body-scanners-ignite-privacy-concerns/>
Cleveland, Paul A., and Price, Jared R. The Failure of Federal Aviation Administration Regulation. Vol. 8.1 (2003): 53-64.
Do Full Body Scanners Violate Right to Privacy? www.arbiteronline.com. Accessed March 27, 2011. < http://arbiteronline.com/2010/11/29/do-full-body-scanners-violate-right-to-privacy/>
For Travelers. Transportation Security Administration. Transportation Security Administration Forum, 2009. Accessed March 27, 2011. <http://www.tsa.gov/approach/tech/index.shtm>
Full Body Scans. gizmodo.com. Accessed February 26, 2011. <http://gizmodo.com/#!5690749>.
Gaping Holes in Airline Security: Loaded Gun Slips Past TSA Screeners. abcnews.com. Accessed March 26, 2011. <http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/loaded-gun-slips-past-tsa-screeners/story?id=12412458>
Intelligence in Homeland Security. cia.gov. Accessed March 21, 2011. <https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no3/airport_security_5.htm>
Moore, Michael. Fahrenheit 9/11. Lions Gate Films, 2004. DVD
One Hundred Naked Citizens. gizmodo.com. Accessed March 27, 2011. <http://gizmodo.com/#!5690749/these-are-the-first-100-leaked-body-scans>
Our History. tsa.gov. Accessed February 25, 2011. <http://www.tsa.gov/research/tribute/history.shtm>
Pay Scales at TSA (2010). tsa.gov. Accessed April 1, 2011. <http://www.tsa.gov/join/careers/pay_scales.shtm>
Red Team (Definition). wikipedia.org. Accessed March 25, 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_team>
Seidenstat, Paul. Protecting airline passengers in the age of terrorism. Greenwood Publishing Group: Santa Barbara, 2009.
Sidlow, Edward, and Beth Henschen. Government. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2010. 353-356.
TSA: Layers of Security. tsa.gov. Accessed March 21, 2011. <http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/layers/index.shtm>
Undercover TSA agent gets through new airport scanners…whilst carrying a HANDGUN. dailymail.co.uk. February 20, 2011, Accessed March 25, 2011. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1358881/Undercover-security-agent-gets-new-airport-scanner-whilst-carrying-handgun.html#>.
Wells, Alexander T. Commercial Aviation Safety. McGraw-Hill: New York, 2004.
Which Airports Have Body-Scanning Technology? cnn.com. Accessed February 26, 2011. <http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-18/travel/airports.with.body.scanners_1_full-body-scanning-screen-passengers-cleveland-hopkins-international-airport?_s=PM:TRAVEL>.