Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Stansted naked scanner images on public display

An old friend has been traversing Stansted airport and writes to say;
"Apparently if you set off the metal scanners you get to go and stand in the booth. So if you carry a small amount of change through the detector or you are unlucky enough to get picked at random (apparently that's why I ALWAYS set the alarm off) you get to be irradiated for your trouble. 
In the Stansted setup, the operator viewing the images sits alongside the other operators on the "secure" side of the checks and the full body images generated by the scanner are on full view to everyone who has already passed through security! 
So much for all the propaganda about the images only being seen by a single operator in a darkened room remote from the scanner eh?" 
The blatantly casual nature of this set up and the apparent lack of concern of the operators and the travelling public is just one further indicator of the unrestrained battering the ethos of personal privacy is taking in UK society. Sad.

By coincidence, for the first time in ages I had been speaking to another old friend on Friday who had recently been to Amsterdam.  He tells me that all passengers going through Schiphol Airport when he was there had to go through the strip search machine. No exceptions.

He thought it was great for two reasons. Firstly it seemed to him to speed up the queues - faster than the metal detector scan plus pat down. Secondly, since he's had a replacement hip he always makes the metal detector  beep, so he always gets a pat down.

The few studies that have been done of the effect of the scanners on queues indicate that on average they increase queuing times significantly, primarily because of the amount of time it takes to scan each individual. That reality is completely irrelevant, however, if people perceive the machines to be shortening queues. Convenience [perceived or real] beats everything, including a commitment to personal privacy.

In my Amsterdam friend's case he always sets off the metal detector and always gets a pat down, so the naked scanner felt far less intrusive and significantly more convenient.  He had not thought about the efficacy of the machines.  He just assumed that they work, whereas we know they don't detect some dangerous explosives.

He had not thought about what kinds of images were generated, whether they were legal, who saw them, when, whether and where they were stored, shared or further processed.

He had not thought about the health risks but assumed that element of the machines' deployment had been thoroughly reviewed, regulated, tested, certified and routinely audited, which of course is not the case.  He had no idea if the machine he went through was a millimetre wave machine - relatively safe from a radiation perspective as long as the machines don't malfunction as they are prone to do - or an xray backscatter machine - widely deployed at US airports and found by scientists at the University of California and elsewhere to pose significant health risks.

In short, he had no idea of or given any thought to the significant security, ethical, operational, legal and health & safety problems with the routine deployment of naked scanners in airports. And why should he - he had just had the most convenient, comfortable processing through airport security from his perspective for many years.

Cyber-rights folks - naked scanners have got to be the easiest, slammest dunkest, article 8 privacy breach to demonstrate to anyone.  If we can't convince intelligent folks what a terrible idea they are then Scott MacNealy, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergi Brin, odious Tony 'rights are an outdated 19th century concept' Blair and co are right - privacy really is well and truly dead.

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