Full body scans at airports are an intrusion of privacy. We already knew that, of course, but news last week of a Miami TSA worker arrested after beating up co-worker for making fun of his penis size serves as yet another reminder.
The story goes something like this: The dimensions of TSA worker Rolando Negrin’s genitalia had been revealed after he walked through a body scanner as part of TSA training. Thereafter, his co-workers made fun of his package, causing Negrin to confront one of them May 6 with a baton in a Miami-Dade airport parking lot.
According to the arrest report, Negrin stated that he “could not take the jokes anymore and lost his mind.” The attacked co-worker suffered bruises and abrasions on his back and arms.
Negrin’s actions were clearly inappropriate, but an incident like this was almost inevitable. The sad truth is that privacy policies put in place often are broken by the people meant to enforce them. Remember the State Department workers caught looking at the passport photos of presidential candidates and Anna Nicole Smith? Or the IRS worker who looked up the tax returns of famous actors and his next door neighbor?
TSA claims (.pdf) that privacy safeguards will prevent TSA workers from linking the images of naked people to the identities of passengers. But since those images can be stored and linked to itineraries–at least, according to research (.pdf) done by the Electronic Privacy Information Center–how likely is it that in the near future we’ll read about some fresh privacy scandal at the TSA? It’s probably pretty likely.
If the body scanners were effective at capturing terrorists, the privacy invasion would be worth bearing–a few minutes of embarrassing revelation traded off against the assurance that passengers aren’t carrying with them hidden explosives.
Except that assurance doesn’t exist. According to design specifications, scanners are meant to detect liquid, but not powdered, material. And whether terrorists would simply adapt to the scanners with new counter measures is an issue TSA apparently hasn’t addressed.
Rolando Negrin is a warning; TSA needs to stop the roll out of body scanners and reassess the technology and its practices before making the nation the butt of its workers’ jokes. – Dave
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