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‘Digital Strip Searches’ at Airports: Privacy Advocates Allege a Coverup


While thousands of holiday travelers are being digitally strip-searched at U.S. airports, privacy advocates are mounting a fresh effort to fight the technology.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has just filed suit against the federal government to uncover details of the use of the crime-fighting tool, the “millimeter-wave portals,” as federal officials call them. Privacy advocates fear the spread of these devices.

The portals, which see right through even the densest polyester, could be used to finally settle the argument that consumes American males: Who’s got the biggest penis? For now, however, the feds are using the machines to ostensibly uncover terrorists and other criminals by shooting naked pics (better than X-rays because they also show genitalia and other flesh) of travelers before they board planes to visit boring relatives.

Is this a civil-rights issue? Well, the feds insist that the machines do not store the images. But it is unsettling that the Transportation Security Administration, which is greatly expanding its deployment of these “people scanners” at airports, phrases the privacy issue this way:

This state-of-the-art technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image. In fact, all machines are delivered to airports with these functions disabled.

The first sentence sounds good, but the second one strongly implies that the machines are designed with such storage capabilities. By the TSA’s saying the functions are “disabled,” we can rightly assume that they exist right now on those machines and could be “enabled.”

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