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Full-Body X-Ray Scanners Driving Down A Street Near You?

Aug 26, 20104 mins
Data and Information SecurityEnterprise ApplicationsMicrosoft

If full-body airport scanners are intrusive, how about vans taking x-ray scans while you drive or walk along the sidewalk?

If you thought full-body airport scanners were intrusive, how do you like the idea of X-ray scans happening while you drive or walk along the sidewalk? Like it or not, you know you have to deal with full-body scans at an airport. Now full-body scanners in the form of mobile X-ray scanning units have also hit the street. You could be scanned without ever knowing it happened.

American Science & Engineering, based in Massachusetts, told Forbes blogger Andy Greenberg that it sold more than 500.” These vans have been sold to the U.S. military and to law enforcement agencies to conduct full-body scans on nearby vehicles. The Z Backscatter van has X-ray scanning technology mounted on the inside while it resembles a delivery type van on the outside. Although many of these scanning vans are used in war zones, some are also being used in the U.S. to detect bombs, people who are smuggled inside a nearby car, and contraband.

On the website for Z Backscatter vans, it states, “The images created by Z Backscatter detectors are clear, uncluttered, and photo-like. They are much easier to interpret than traditional transmission X-ray images.”

ACLU’s Jay Stanley blogged, “The use of this technology constitutes a search, and under the Fourth Amendment, a search can only be carried out with a warrant. There are exceptions to that, but none of them would apply if this technology is being used on public streets.”

This is “old” technology even if we are only hearing about it now. On August 1, 2005, the defense industry paid $9.5 million for eight Z-Backscatter Scan-Vans to meet U.S. Central Command requirements for Afghanistan and Iraq. On August 15, 2005, $61.3 million became the firm-fixed-price for maximum ordering quantity of “52 Z-Backscatter X-Ray Systems and associated manuals, spares and field support.” In August 2006, another defense deal was struck for “$46.5 million firm-fixed-price service contract for service and maintenance support of 67 Z-Backscatter Systems, associated manuals, and spare parts.”

Time’s Adam Cohen wrote a similar scary story about the government’s new right to track your every move with GPS. He stated, “Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway – and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.” This does not apply to all states…yet.

But the EFF won a case and posted it as Court Rejects Warrantless GPS Tracking. Using GPS to track us needs to be another post, but it works well to show you how fast our privacy is being destroyed.

While we are looking at intrusive technology that strips us, literally, then I’d like to point out a technology that is new and has been proposed as skeletal identification scanning. According to Physorg, “The Wright State Research Institute is developing a ground-breaking system that would scan the skeletal structures of people at airports, sports stadiums, theme parks and other public places that could be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, child abductions or other crimes. The images would then quickly be matched with potential suspects using a database of previously scanned skeletons.”

I can see a where X-raying Z Backscatter vans would be useful to save lives in a warzone; I get the argument for this technology when the military needs to look for bombs and other life-or-death threats.  Are there really that many bombs being toted around in U.S. vehicles to warrant this type of privacy invasion? Surely not! And now the proposed collection of skeletal scans? That’s ridiculous! As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote, “Because every country has a database of terrorist skeletons just waiting to be used.”

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ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.