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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sen. Tom Udall Guest Blog: Protecting Privacy at the Airport

TomUdall This is a guest blog by U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), who is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Around the holidays last year, we saw significant public concern about personal privacy at our nation's airports. At the time, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had expanded screening measures at security checkpoints in airports like the Albuquerque Sunport.

The new standard became Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) or whole body scanners, which produce highly revealing body images of the individual being screened. If you refuse an AIT scan, the alternative is a full body pat-down -- also hardly ideal for personal privacy.

I asked New Mexicans to share their thoughts with me on this issue. In more than 7,000 email responses, my constituents overwhelmingly expressed concern about these TSA screening procedures.

To address these concerns, I've put forward a practical proposal that meets current airport security standards while helping travelers maintain personal privacy.

New software can be installed on existing scanners to replace passenger-specific pictures with a generic, non-identifiable outline of the person being screened. I have offered an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill that would require this software to be installed on existing scanners nationwide within a year.

Advanced Imaging Technology Currently In Use
The body images produced at airport checkpoints are highly revealing and many passengers are justifiably uncomfortable being screened by the technology. Today, this is the kind of image AIT screening creates:

Current

Proposed Automatic Target Recognition Software
I propose a deadline of Jan. 1, 2012, for Automatic Target Recognition software to be installed nationwide on existing AIT machines. This software enhances privacy by eliminating passenger-specific images and instead detects potential threat items and indicates their location on a generic outline of the individual being screened, like this:

Proposed

This month, the TSA is beginning to field-test the program in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., and similar software is already being used abroad.

With existing technology, we can enforce airport security without sacrificing our personal privacy. By imposing a deadline for the transition to this software, we will ensure that the TSA and manufacturers have ample time to test and make any necessary modifications while preventing unnecessary delays for its implementation.

This is a guest blog by Sen. Tom Udall. To submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, click on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the page.

February 15, 2011 at 02:21 PM in Civil Liberties, Homeland Security, Sen. Tom Udall, Terrorism, Transportation, Travel | Permalink

Comments

Although I appreciate Udall's being responsive, the biggest concern I have is not with the body image, but with the x-ray harm done to my body by the Rapiscan machines. I am also concerned about the worker safety of the TSA agents who have to endure x-rays all day long. The experts have explained that these machines are NOT safe. (I also do not want to be groped. Shall I just not ever fly?!)
It seems to me that the Rapiscan machines are plainly not going to reduce the chance of terrorism and are simply a way to make Chertoff's company (which make the Rapiscan) more profits through his connections to the government. Did we not see that terrorists recently detonated explosives in a large airport without waiting to board the plane? Why would a suicide bomber need to wait till he/she has gone through the TSA scanners?
These dangerous, cancer-causing machines should be eliminated entirely, not modified, as they are a also total waste of money! We need to cut spending... start with Rapiscans, please.
Furthermore, our government encourages these civilian attacks by attacking innocent civilians in other countries, e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and others. We have become monstrous in our immoral militaristic, empirialistic behavior, and the consequence is that terrorists wish to stop us, reasonably so. Stopping our monstrous behavior would be more likely to reduce terrorist attacks on our civilians. Let's bring our troops home now...and all the unmanned drones, as well. That will not only save lives and win friends, but it will cost us many billions less dollars. Remember, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Posted by: nancy | Feb 15, 2011 3:02:30 PM

I support this easy fix to improve privacy with these scans. The commenter above seems to believe the machines are dangerous but there is no proof of that. In fact studies have shown they are not harmful.

It is a balancing act to make traveling safer in this era and this seems like a common-sense compromise. Sen. Udall is good at that.

Posted by: Greg | Feb 15, 2011 3:11:03 PM

Better than what they have.

Posted by: Sean | Feb 15, 2011 5:12:37 PM