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Reader Response

Airport Security Debate 60 points

1. Read the articles below that have differing viewpoints on using airport body scanners. 

2. Write a 1/2 page summary for each article, double-spaced, size 12 font, Times New Roman. 

  • Please include the title, author, and publication of the article in the summary.

  • Give the Issue.
  • Give the author’s conclusion. (“I believe” statement)

  • Give the reasons to support the conclusion. (look for at least three)

  • State the author’s value assumptions (How do they believe the world “should be”)

  • What is the reality assumption regarding airport security? (How the world ‘really is’.)

  • Remember, if you are going to use the author’s words, YOU MUST PUT THEM IN QUOTES to give credit where credit is due. As much as you can, (staying true to the article!) put the summary in your own words. I don’t want to have a regurgitation of the article. I’ve already read it. 30 pts

    3. Write a ½ to one page response to the article, double-spaced, size 12 font, Times New Roman.

  • The response should include your opinion about the articles. Which article did you agree with more? Why? Be specific. Use their arguments to support your thoughts.

  • What are your value assumptions regarding this issue? Why? Have you always felt this way? Has your mind been changed?

  • Make a connection with the topic to support your opinion. What have you experienced in airports? Friends? News stories? Again, be specific.

  • Your response is very important. It is an indicator to me just how much you understood and can apply what you have read. 30 pts

ARTICLES

Our view on transportation security: Airport body scanners balance safety and privacy 

Get over squeamishness. With safeguards, imagers add protection. By: The USA Today Editorial Board 

Fliers, it seems, have more common sense than some of the legislators charged with protecting them from terrorists. 

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last week, 78% of air travelers said they favor plans to install body scanners at airports. Last summer, by contrast, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to bar the machines for primary screening because they can see through clothing, even if just opaquely. 

It’s a simple choice: safety over modesty, the same trade-off you make to get an annual physical. With the failed Christmas Day bombing plot fresh in mind, the Senate, which has yet to vote on the House bill, should do a better job of sorting priorities. 

Thanks to some technological improvements, the scanners aren’t all that invasive anyway, and they might have spotted Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he boarded his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. 

The machines can reveal objects that metal detectors miss, such as plastic firearms, ceramics knives and, yes, possibly explosives hidden in a person’s underwear. But more than eight years after the 9/11 attacks, only 19 U.S. airports use them and then at only a few checkpoints. Scanners are also scarce in Europe, and none was at the checkpoints for Abdulmutallab’s flight. 

The U.S. government plans to deploy 300 more of the new scanners this year. All that stands in the way are the excessive concerns of privacy advocates that the scanners can reveal private body parts. When the technology was recommended in 2002, concerns about “virtual strip searches” were valid. But the devices’ invasive aspects have been toned down considerably since then. Now, software obscures images of body parts. Individuals can’t be identified. The operator who sees the image is in another room; if anything raises concerns, the operator contacts the agent performing the scan. 

These safeguards represent a reasonable compromise between safety and privacy. The Transportation Security Administration could assuage another valid worry — that images might be stored and used later — by being straighter with the public. Instead, the TSA has damaged its credibility with conflicting information. 

Although the agency has proclaimed that the “technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image,” internal documents from 2008 show that the TSA sought to buy scanners that can store and send images when in a test mode. The best way to protect the public is for Congress to set out restrictions, perhaps allowing the images to be stored for a few hours for potential investigative purposes after a terrorist incident. 

Instead, lawmakers have sought limitations that defy reason. In an unusual display of bipartisanship, the House voted 310-118 in June to restrict the use of scanners to secondary screening of suspicious passengers. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who sponsored that measure, insisted after the Dec. 25 incident that Abdulmutallab should have been on a watch list that triggered secondary screening, when fliers are either patted down or put through scanners. 

Agreed. But that’s just the point: Airport screening is meant to provide additional layers of security to catch those who have slipped through other parts of the system. The scanning should be routine if it can be used as efficiently as metal detectors are now. In fact, it is already replacing some metal detectors in Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Miami, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Tulsa. 

Critics also portray body scanning as a knee-jerk reaction to the botched Christmas Day attack. Wrong again. 

Consider this headline: “A New X-ray Scanner to Hinder Hijackers.” That’s from Fortune magazine — in 1986. At the time, several foreign governments planned to deploy a precursor to today’s machines to scan for plastic pistols, then a new terrorism tool. 

It’s annoying that boarding an airplane has to be such an undignified experience. But it sure beats being on board with a bomber. 

(TSA photo via Bloomberg) 

Posted at 12:22 AM/ET, January 12, 2010 in USA TODAY editorial | Permalink

Opposing view: Uniquely intrusive devices 

‘Creepy and unnecessary’ body scanners violate fliers’ privacy By Marc Rotenberg 

With the understandable concerns about aviation security after the failed Christmas Day attack, many people are calling on the government to strengthen airport security. Improving watch lists, interviewing suspicious passengers and fixing the systemic intelligence problems would be a good start. But expanded use of body scanners is a bad idea and should not be pursued. 

Body scanners, unlike other detection technologies, are uniquely intrusive. They capture detailed images of the naked human body, genitalia included. Some people may not object. But the screening can be degrading and humiliating for families, those with strong religious beliefs, travelers with medical conditions or sex operations, and anyone who just thinks it’s creepy and unnecessary. 

The Transportation Security Administration says it has handled privacy concerns by obscuring portions of the image and placing the TSA viewer in a separate room. Focusing on what the operator sees misses the larger picture. Body scanners are essentially digital cameras with X-ray vision, designed to peer through clothes and store and record images. 

Even Rapiscan, one of the vendors, advertises that the images can be recorded and displayed on “any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics.” 

Documents uncovered by EPIC, as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, reveal that the TSA can adjust the scanners’ “privacy settings.” 

If body scanners are deployed in the nation’s airports, it might not be long before the record switch is turned to “on.” That’s why there must be a clear legal ban on recording images before any more devices are installed. 

The technology is also easily defeated. 

Millimeter wave and backscatter X-ray screening devices are designed to detect dense material against the human body. They’ll find plastic guns and ceramic knives that might be missed by a metal detector. But liquid and powder explosives, of the type involved in the recent attack, are not so easily detected. Attackers know this, which is why they have favored materials that can get through the scanners. Explosives are also easily concealed in body cavities, diapers and tampons. 

Proponents say the technology doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to provide a new layer of security. That policy approach ignores both cost and effectiveness. It turns passenger safety into “security theater.”

We need smart strategies to respond to threats. Fixing intelligence failures and keeping terrorists off airplanes are smart. Throwing money at vendors of surveillance technology, for costly systems that strip Americans of their dignity and are easily defeated, is not. 

Marc Rotenberg is president of EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. 

Posted at 12:21 AM/ET, January 12, 2010 in USA TODAY editorial | Permalink







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