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Air Travel Prices Have Gone Up: Security for the Cost of Privacy

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Essay title: Air Travel Prices Have Gone Up: Security for the Cost of Privacy

Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, airport security has undergone significant changes nationwide. For all air travelers this is an intense issue. Post-September 11, airline travel security has invoked the increase use of technology and better training of security personnel to improve travel security. Some of these suggestions, such as better training for airport screeners, checking all bags for bombs, developing stronger and safer cockpit doors, and putting air marshals on flights, do not bring up privacy issues and are typical security measures. Others, however, are invading the personal privacy of air travelers. “There is only one technology commercially available today that can disclose all types of contraband concealed on people’s bodies even under clothing and hair, including ceramic and plastic weapons and explosives; not only metallic items. These devices, known as body scanners utilize a minute dose of ionizing radiation to create images representative of persons and contraband.” (Williamson) The problem with these body scanners is when a person is scanned for contrabands; the image that appears on the monitor is an outline of the passenger’s nude figure. I believe that in order to maintain a safe environment in our Nation’s airports while increasing air traveler’s confidence in airport security procedures, some personal privacy may be imposed upon. This is the cost they will have to bear if they want to maximize their protection against potential threats in our Nation’s airports.

Backscatter technology works as a result of Compton Scattering. How that works, is when the x-ray beam comes in contact with organic materials, it then “scatters back” toward the detectors. When the image is displayed on the monitor, the organic Backscatter information is shown as lighter areas in the image and the inorganic materials (including contraband) are shown as darker objects. Scanning a person is completed in three easy steps. First the x-ray generator moves vertically up and down while producing a narrow beam of x-rays. Second, the x-ray beam is directed towards the individual being scanned. When the x-ray reaches organic material it is reflected back towards the detectors. Third, the detector data is then sent to a digital computer which processes and displays the image on a monitor. This process takes no longer than eight to ten seconds, much faster than having to re-enter a metal detector two or three times.

Two major sellers manufacture Backscatter machines for security purposes. American Science and Engineering (AS&E) offers “Z Backscatter” products including its “Body Search” device for scanning humans. Rapiscan Systems, a division of OSI Systems, offers the Rapiscan Secure 1000, the x-ray machine that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is using to search air passengers. “Security officials claim it is a far more effective way of countering potential terrorists because it detects the outline of any solid object- such as plastic explosives or ceramic knives- which conventional metal detectors would miss.” (Gadher) Other contraband items that Backscatter machines can detect are all ferrous and non-ferrous metals, non-metallic weapons, explosives (dynamite, plastique, semtex and black powder), copper wire as small as twenty two gauge and solid, powder and liquid forms of metal. One of these machines will run up to about $100,000 and $200,000 each. However, the price of these machines shouldn’t be too much of an issue since “President Bush proposed a $2.57 trillion federal budget for Fiscal Year 2006, which greatly increases the amount of money spent on surveillance and technology.” (EPIC)

The purpose and goal of the Backscatter machines is to rely on technology to reduce the “hassle factor” in airports and to reduce security threats. The main idea is to center security resources on suspicious travelers, while making sure that most people are not inconvenienced by heightened security. Terrorists, however, have been known to go to great lengths to look like most people. It has long been recognized by security experts that it is impossible to eliminate all threats to airline travel. An increased detection of non-violent criminal offenses is the result of the application of security technology and increased passenger screening.

The problem with the Backscatter machines is “you can see the threats, but you can also see quite a bit of people’s anatomy.” (Mastronardi) “This, of course, is a virtual strip-search,” says ACLU associate director Barry Stienhardt. “There’s no question this has tremendous potential for embarrassment.” Security workers using the machine can see through clothes and peer at whatever may be hidden in undergarments, shirts, or pants. The images also paint a revealing picture of a person’s nude body. Some people that were hand

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