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Big gain in privacy

The Federal Aviation Administration, carrying out a mandate from Congress, has ordered the removal from airports of full-body scanners that allow security officers to electronically undress airline customers.

They will be replaced with machines that show only a dummy human outline and any hidden weapons.

This is a big gain for air travel privacy.

But the same privacy concerns that made the removed scanners controversial will follow them if they are used, as planned, in other government security operations.

The 250 machines in question are among those that use “backscatter” X-rays to see through clothing.

Most of the other 550 FAA body scanners use a radio frequency technology called millimeter-wave and are equipped with privacy software that uses a generic body image. These newer machines require fewer operators and are quicker.

But there is always some drawback, it seems. The millimeter-wave machines have been found, in tests conducted in Europe and Australia, to have very high “false-positive” rates. At least one in four travelers were stopped for body searches.

Backscatter machines are controversial not only because they can produce a near perfect nude body image that is invasive of travelers’ privacy but because, in the view of some critics, they expose travelers to dangerous levels of ionized X-rays. ...

Members of the public who must pass through these machines at their new locations will inevitably face the same privacy concerns as airline travelers.

The Post and Courier of Charleston

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