Fun_People Archive
30 Nov
Airport Security Incidents

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 99 01:38:42 -0800
To: Fun_People
Precedence: bulk
Subject: Airport Security Incidents

X-Lib-of-Cong-ISSN: 1098-7649  -=[ Fun_People ]=-
Forwarded-by: Keith Sullivan <>


I had purchased a talking metronome while I was attending a conference in
New York for music teachers.  Before my son and I boarded our flight home,
I hefted my carry-on bag onto the security-check conveyor belt.  The guard's
eyes widened as he watched the monitor.  He asked what I had in the bag,
then slowly pulled out the six-by-three-inch black box covered with dials
and switches.  Other travelers, sensing trouble, vacated the area.

"A metronome," I replied weakly, as my son cringed in embarrassment.  "It's
a talking metronome," I insisted.  "Look, I'll show you."  I took the box
and flipped a switch, realizing that I had no idea how it worked, "One...
two... three... four," it said.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

As we gathered our belongings, my son whispered, "Aren't you glad it didn't
go 'four... three... two... one...'?"

Marcia L. Caldwell in Reader's Digest, Nov., 1995
Nancy Carson <>


Waiting in a long, slow-moving line for security clearance at the Edmonton
International Airport in Canada, I was annoyed to hear a loud male voice
behind me.  "Excuse me, excuse me," said the man as he pushed his way to
the front.  "I want to make sure I get a good seat."

I resolved not to let this line-jumper get ahead of me.  When I felt a tap
on my shoulder, I whirled around, prepared to give the man a tongue-lashing
-- but found myself face to face with a smiling pilot.

Cheryl Griffith in Reader's Digest


According to an article in the Oct-Nov 1996 issue of "Compressed Air"
magazine (a wonderful Ingersoll-Rand publication that covers a very wide
range of topics), the Federal Aviation Administration is planning to begin
testing the use of a full-body "holographic" imaging system at a U.S.
airport next year.

The system (an earlier version of which was discussed previously in the
PRIVACY Forum), actually uses millimeter waves (~30 Ghz) to quickly (within
a few seconds) generate a "naked" image of the scannee.  The device has been
under development for a number of years and appears to be evolving rapidly.
The transmitted millimeter radiation passes through clothes but bounces off
the body or other objects (e.g., everything from loose change to firearms,
hidden money packets, etc.)

Outside of the rather obvious broader privacy implications of such a device,
two special issues should also be considered.  First, even though the
millimeter radiation used is non-ionizing (e.g. less energetic than x-rays),
there is considerable controversy about the health risks of exposure to
non-ionizing radiation at these wavelengths.  The statement is made that
the system is similar in exposure to supermarket "door opener" microwave
scanners, though this seems somewhat difficult to accept given the
completely different scanning requirements of the two devices.

But another problem may be even more likely to concern the public at large
about such equipment.  As the photographs included with the article show
all too clearly, the device generates quite detailed "nude" images.  It is
decidedly uncertain how people will feel about being required to pass
through a system that creates instant 360 degree naked pictures, possibly
archived to tape as well!  The promoters of the system suggest that using
"same-sex" operators would alleviate these concerns.  Excuse me, but are we
all living on the same planet?  Talk about needing a reality check...

I have no doubt that there might be special situations where such a device,
as an alternative to "pat-downs" or other intrusive personal searches, could
be useful.  But broadscale deployment of such systems in airports as a
routine body scanning procedure seems unlikely to be acceptable to most of
the public.

Lauren Weinstein (PRIVACY Forum Moderator) <>
PRIVACY Forum <>
Phil Agre <>
Keith Bostic <>

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