The TSA is about to begin a test of backscatter X-ray screening of Passengers at Houston’s Sky Harbor International Airport. As reported in the Arizona Republic, the TSA has taken pains to reassure everyone that the images will be dithered in the appropriate areas for the sake of modesty. The TSA has also explained that the images will be viewed by an operator at a remote location and that no one at the checkpoint, even the screened passenger, will see the images.
And that is a good thing, for the images are not merely invasive and unflattering; they are downright creepy. For example, below is an image of the TSA’s Security Lab Head, Susan Hallowell, imaged by the system. It is enough to cure any high school boy who ever fantasized about having x-ray glasses, and UFO believers will see the picture as proof that the TSA is in fact run by space aliens.
And the part about keeping the images confidential? The TSA may try, but it will fail, perhaps even before the first tests are complete. In an age of YouTube and Google, it is a certainty that this creep-show will play on the web with an unwilling cast from celebrities to anonymous road warriors. Let us hope the first release is a politician or a Supreme Court Justice and the ensuing uproar forces a rethink of the whole idea. The obvious solution is to have the system turn the body image into an outline cartoon of the subject with only the suspect objects shown in real image. Until then, smile — and don’t forget your lead underwear.