Aug 25 2010
It seems that the controversy over full body x-ray backscatter scanners hasn't died down yet. Since word got out that the TSA was, in fact, saving images from the machines (note: NSFW pictures) quite a few ears have perked up. Like those of a couple of US Senators. Senators Lieberman and Collins, who are the Chairman and a ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee along with a number of other senators have made an official inquiry of the US Marshals Service about the practice. They aim to determine whether or not they are intruding unnecessarily into people's privacy by basically looking at them naked (I'll let you be the judge of whether or not that constitutes an invasion of privacy). For its part, the Marshals Service says that the images can only be accessed by someone who has an administrative password, but we all know how good people aren't at choosing secure passwords and about not sharing them at work. The US Marshals Service has yet to respond to the inquiry. Given that they lied the first three times around when it came to the scanners (about the level of detail in the images, about how well they work, and about storing the images at all) what will probably happen is that they will publically say they'll get right on it and then promptly do nothing at all.
As if that weren't enough here's something that'll give you Total Recall flashbacks (without Sharon Stone, unfortunately): backscatter x-ray scanners are not, in fact, staying in airports and government facilities. There are units built into vans to peek inside of motor vehicles while on the road. More than 500 vans (ostensibly nondescript to prevent people from trying to avoid them, steal them, damage them, or troll them) are on the road right now in a number of countries peering into vehicles to see which ones have illegal immigrants, drugs, smuggled vices, or bombs in them. The website of the company that manufactures them has some interesting stuff and I highly suggest that you do a bit of browsing. They have a high-energy version designed to be installed in places where lots of vehicles need to some through in short order, the mobile scanner (with a picture of the van) which can presumably scan out of both sides simultaneously (suggested by the line about supporting two operators) which is also capable of scanning people if it's holding still (scroll all the way to the bottom of the page), and a few other variants that I'd love to get the specs on. Judging by the images these units don't seem to give very good images of people, so if you're squeamish by the idea of someone checking out your wabbily bits while crusing down the road you might not have to worry too much.
Oh, ad by the way: just like a securicam suddenly going dark, spotting a shielded car is just as suspicious as seeing one stuffed full of plastique, dead people, hooch, bales of marijuana, and stolen cigarettes. Just sayin'.