Delicate Balance: Airline Security vs. Personal Privacy

full body scanners

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today the country "can't be static" when it comes to protecting travelers from attacks such as the attempted bombing of a Christmas Day flight, but some new security measures are raising questions about the delicate balance between safety and personal privacy.

"[The attack] is certainly not something we want to have happen again," Napolitano told "Good Morning America."

"That's why we're looking at that technology, why we're employing new technology. ... This is an ever-changing environment we're dealing with. We can't be static."

Napolitano's comments came days after a Nigerian man was arrested for igniting a small explosion on a Northwest Airline flight bound for Detroit Friday. The man, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly sneaked the explosives through security in his underwear.

VIDEO: Do full body scanners violate a traveler?s civil liberties?

The incident prompted the Transportation Security Administration to announce heightened security guidelines for passengers Sunday that included more full-body pat downs, secondary screenings and additional rules onboard the plane.

Click here to see the TSA's new guidelines for passengers.

While the new measures could be a headache for the millions of expected travelers this holiday season, new body-imaging scanners that are already in some airports continue to draw criticism from those who believe the detailed scans are an invasion of privacy.

Sacrificing Privacy for Security?

Napolitano said officials are working "at lightning speed" to integrate new technology in the battle for airport security. As part of that initiative, the TSA previously ordered 150 new full-body scanners that, unlike metal detectors, scan for a range of substances and produce a detailed scan of the passenger's body.

While the Constitution protects the people from "unreasonable searches," some experts are debating where to draw the line. The devices are designed to pick up illicit and potentially dangerous materials but they also show private details of a traveler's body such as breast implants or prosthetic devices.

'Naked Scanners' Reveal Too Much?

The TSA's Web site says the devices "screen passengers for a wide range of threats while maintaining passenger privacy" but some critics say the "naked scanners" go too far.

"It's very intrusive and some people think it invades their privacy," counterterrorism expert Richard Clarke told "Good Morning America" today. "[But] if we had these scanners at all screening posts, we may have been able to stop this [Christmas Day bombing attempt]."

Rapiscan, which makes the full-body imaging device Secure 1000 Single Pose, says its machine can "detect organic and inorganic threats, metals and non-metallic objects," according to the company Web site

The machine blurs certain parts of the traveler's body but not enough so that someone could hide an object in the area, Rapiscan's Jonathan Fleming said.

The scanners cannot, however, pick up anything concealed inside the body of a traveler.

Critics are also weary of what happens to the images until the government clarifies what would be done with them after passengers are screened.

Congress has banned the mandatory use of these machines until the Department of Homeland Security addresses the privacy concerns.

But to former DHS official Stewart Baker, the winner of the privacy vs. safety battle is clear.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...