Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Flying Naked – Full Body Scanners Come to Canada

Canada’s federal Transportation Minister John Baird held a press conference yesterday, where he announced the installation of 44 clothing-penetrating, full body scanners at 11 Canadian airports within the next two-months.

These scanners create a three-dimensional image of a person’s naked body, allowing airport security officers to see you in your birthday suit.

Though not all passengers will be seen sans clothes. Considered an alternative to a physical search, Government officials say these devices will only be used on passengers 18-years-old and older, that security feels merit a secondary screening.

These full body scanners were already being tested in Kelowna, British Columbia, off Canada’s west-coast, and will now be in use at airports in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and in Vancouver.

At a cost of $250,000 CDN a pop, this is no small investment for the Canadian government, but since the Christmas Day attack aboard a Northwest Airlines flight bound for Detroit, the Canadian government is following the lead of the American government and ramping up airport security.

Or is the Canadian government just doing what our American big brother wants us to do?

American authorities want Canada, and all other countries around the world, to do quite a bit to keep America safe.

Using clothing-penetrating full body scanners raises numerous privacy concerns – essentially it allows complete strangers to take and store digital images of you completely naked. Though Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Jennifer Stoddart says she approved the scanners only on the condition that the security officer viewing these naked full body images be in a separate room, and never actually see the passenger being screened. She also demanded that the digital image would have to be deleted once the passenger leaves the airport.

However, there are no guarantees that the federal Privacy Commissioner’s conditions will always be followed. Once a digital image is created, it can be copied, moved and stored pretty much anywhere. Just because it is deleted off the originating machine which created it, doesn’t mean it is gone for good.

When these clothing-penetrating full body scanners were first announced in the U.S., one of the immediate concerns was naked images of celebrities “suddenly” being found online for sale on places such as eBay.

And you don’t have to be famous to end up naked on eBay – anyone could fall victim to this.

So far, this hasn’t happened, but then these devices are relatively new, just starting to make their way into American and Canadian airports.

One of the less discussed, but just as personally intrusive requests the American government is placing on all countries is the sharing of passenger information.
The American government has sent formal requests to countries which have airlines flying planes across American airspace, requesting personal passenger information -- even if those passengers will never land at an American airport.
This personal information includes full legal names, citizenship, birth date, and destination.

There hasn’t been any indication of what action – if any – American authorities would take having this information. They could advise or warn other countries and/or airlines of possible persons of interest. Or a more drastic action would be to ban specific planes from flying through American airspace if American authorities don’t like one or more of the passengers or crew. And American authorities have been vague with just how long they would keep this information, and for what purposes.

So far, Canadian and many European countries have refused to provide this information for their passengers – it’s been a year since the Americans made the request. But with increased security measures being taken worldwide because of the recent Christmas Day terror incident, the American government could begin demanding this information, restricting air travel through American airspace to airlines which comply.

This would create chaos at airports around the world, as flights were delayed or canceled completely because of the new American airspace restrictions.

And even with all these new security measures in place, we still will never be completely safe. As soon as a security measure is taken, you can almost guarantee someone, somewhere around the world is working on ways to bypass it.

The only real way to prevent terrorism is to stop it in its tracks. George W. Bush coined the phrase the “war on terror,” and that in a literal sense is what it is – a war.

Although former U.S. President Bush’s “war” was questionable – he and his team falsified documents to justify attacking Iraq, claiming Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (which he didn’t) and he sent troops to Afghanistan to “get Bin Laden,” but he never did, nor has anyone else.

The only real way to prevent terrorism is to win the war. Adding security at airports only challenges the terrorists to go further, and incites them to try harder. To win the war, we have to capture and imprison those who recruit, train and motivate people to do terrorist acts, and we have to capture and imprison those who have been recruited, trained and motivated to do these acts.

Until then, clothing-penetrating full body scanners and the sharing of personal passenger information may slow the terrorists down, but it will not stop them.

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