Is full-body scanning constitutional?

According to Jeffrey Rosen, no:

In a 2006 opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, then-Judge Samuel Alito stressed that screening procedures must be both “minimally intrusive” and “effective” – in other words, they must be “well-tailored to protect personal privacy,” and they must deliver on their promise of discovering serious threats. Alito upheld the practices at an airport checkpoint where passengers were first screened with walk-through magnetometers and then, if they set off an alarm, with hand-held wands. He wrote that airport searches are reasonable if they escalate “in invasiveness only after a lower level of screening disclose[s] a reason to conduct a more probing search.”

As currently used in U.S. airports, the new full-body scanners fail all of Alito’s tests.

Rosen further goes on to note:

Rejecting the “backscatter” machines used in the United States, which produce revealing images of the body and have raised concerns about radiation, the Dutch use scanners known as ProVision ATD, which employ radio waves with far lower frequencies than those used in common hand-held devices. If the software detects contraband or suspicious material under a passenger’s clothing, it projects an outline of that area of the body onto a gender-neutral, blob-like human image, instead of generating a virtually naked image of the passenger. The passenger can then be taken aside for secondary screening.

The blobs are a result of a technology to which I was introduced at American Science & Engineering several years ago. The idea is simple: security personnel need not see human tissue, but rather plastics and metals. The article quotes TSA Chief Pistole as saying that, yeah, it would be great but the technology gives a lot of false positives. So what? False negatives, that’s a problem. False positives only get people out of line more often for secondary screening.

Look, the whole thing is idiocy. None of these tools will catch the anal bomber or the vaginal bomber or the cranial cavity bomber. But if we must do this, then at the very least do it in such a way that the basic dignity of the traveling public is maintained. O wait, that’s right, this is the TSA.

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Ron Gordon

Math nerd in his early 40’s who seems to have an opinion about everything and an inability to keep it to himself.