Alex Blaze

Naked pics and the TSA

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 20, 2009 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: domestic surveillance, full frontal nudity, naked men, NSA, phone, privacy, spying, terrorism, TSA, wiretapping

Mother Jones has an interesting post up about the movement against full-body scans that could become commonplace in American airports.

When I first read about this a year ago, I thought the idea was so ridiculous it would never happen. Would people actually submit to having a completely naked picture taken of them to enter and airplane? Of their children too? But apparently they're pilot-testing the machines all over the country this year.

The TSA has an interesting little video about the machines on their site, and I think that it's particularly interesting that they're so lax about privacy considerations related to these machines, yet in their "how Millimeter Wave imaging works" video they actually blurred out the human figure's genitalia. If they don't want to put a cartoon drawing of it up on their site, why do they think that everyone would should be willing to submit to this in real life?

It's not prudish to say that people shouldn't be forced to strip down in front of total strangers in order to travel. There are many people whose religions would prevent them from being seen this way. I would also imagine lots of parents would have trouble with the idea that strangers would be taking naked pics of their kids. The added insult to fat people might keep them from flying. And what about people whose genitalia doesn't "match" their gender performance? Will they now get hassled at security?

Taken with the possibility that people's pictures could get out (like young women's and celebs'), it seems like a lot of people would restrict their travel to avoid this machine.

They say that the TSA people who look at these naked pics won't have recording devices with them, but I wouldn't trust them to be so professional (no offense to TSA workers who read Bilerico, but I don't trust anyone to be that professional). Consider the NSA folks who were assigned to spy on Americans' phone calls:

[Intercept operator, former Navy Arab linguist, David Murfee Faulk] says he and others in his section of the NSA facility at Fort Gordon routinely shared salacious or tantalizing phone calls that had been intercepted, alerting office mates to certain time codes of "cuts" that were available on each operator's computer.

"Hey, check this out," Faulk says he would be told, "there's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out. It would be some colonel making pillow talk and we would say, 'Wow, this was crazy'," Faulk told ABC News.

Faulk said he joined in to listen, and talk about it during breaks in Back Hall's "smoke pit," but ended up feeling badly about his actions.

"I feel that it was something that the people should not have done. Including me," he said.

Yeah, I totally trust these people to behave professionally with their access to naked pics of everyone on a daily basis. Mm-hmm.


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Why, what are you trying to say, Alex? That people would be willing to go so far as sell those pictures of celebrities to a tabloid? Just ask the hospital workers; that'd never happen! :(

Looks like they first tested it out in prisons (typical). And the machines are made by ProVision - I'm guessing huge contracts are/were in play.

Yasmin -- I didn't see the bit about prisons in the article that Alex linked. Did I miss it, or did you read that elsewhere? Not surprising, you're right.

This is sooo unnecessary and out of proportion to the actual threat posed by people entering airplanes that it borders on satire. But I feel so hopeless against it. I mean, maybe I just feel hopeless in general today about corporations and the future of privacy and all these industrial complexes.

Alex --

I would also imagine lots of parents would have trouble with the idea that strangers would be taking naked pics of their kids.

I agree. They won't even offer a full-size image of what the scan looks like on an adult male - can you imagine if a clear picture of a child in this machine was released?

I wonder if that is a tactic that privacy activists working on this issue will employ? I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm wary of more scare tactics revolving around pedophiles and "sex offenders." Apart from being historically bad for queer people (and others), that inevitably leads to registries, decreased privacy, and increased reach for the police and prison industrial complex.

Suddenly we're back to prisons, where ProVision got its start? I guess it all comes full-circle.

I hope that's not the tactic they'd take, but that they would generally discuss a more abstract concern for the privacy of their child. Do these parents want anyone, even if they aren't a NAMBLA-member, to be seeing their kid naked? Other than a doctor, I doubt it.

But this is the worst part - why are we even thinking of strategies on this, of concrete angles to be taking? Why don't people see the obvious privacy concerns here? Where's the religious Right on this, since they're always the ones worried about government power and anything resembling nudity and sexuality? Where's the coverage of this?

Hey, Nick,

The TSA website proudly announces the "Domestic locations" of this technology on the website that Alex linked to, and they include the "Department of Corrections facility (PA)" The list is only a partial one, so I suspect there are lots more corrctional facilities/prisons they haven't even named.

I went into this assuming that I'd find it to be the case (that the prisoner population was being deployed to test this out), but, silly me, thought I'd have to do a lot of digging around to find my suspicions confirmed.

I'm with you on "I'm wary of more scare tactics revolving around pedophiles and "sex offenders." Apart from being historically bad for queer people (and others), that inevitably leads to registries, decreased privacy, and increased reach for the police and prison industrial complex."


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | May 20, 2009 10:36 AM

It is coming down to where travel from or to the United States is becoming no longer worth it. At some point intrusion becomes unbearable. I have had similar experiences in Russia, France and Morocco. Never have I had this type of experience in UK, Italy or Germany and no where in Asia.

Now with metal detectors, taking off your shoes, and making yourself ready for a baggage check if you dare bring sealed water with you, and now this I can see major problems with many tourists choosing to visit the United States.

So international tourists can choose to visit countries no one is angry toward. Business travelers can teleconference. Hotels can become empty, and America will yet again, hide from the real reasons she has international enemies.

As a note, the blurring wasn't done in the video -- that's what one can see.

For transfolks, such devices are a nightmare, and anyone who has flown through a hub (Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix, Baltimore, etc) in the last 3 years has already been hit with such.

Phoenix was one of the main original test sites, so I got up and went down.

You raise good points about the celebrity aspect -- but note that the images don't show the celeb personally, so have no real value for the rags.

Do I like the idea? No.

But then, I think the existence of the TSA's post 9/11 powers is entirely horrible and should be abolished.

I'm almost to the point of exasperation with all things pertaining to either party. Yesterday's Senate Democratic-led gutting of the CARD bill was nearly the final straw for me (they removed the very things most needed, the interest rate cap and the ban on use of other credit reports to jack people's credit card terms) for both parties.

Frankly, the TSA is a Gestapo with no purpose or reason for existence, other than to harass ordinary citizens. It should be dissolved. They are ineffectual at best and if a terrorist wanted to blow up a plane at this point, it wouldn't be any harder than it was in August 2001, anyway. (hint: buy off a baggage handler) I only fly if I can't drive the trip, and would likely cancel anything too distant to drive. And that's before you get me started on the airlines' blatant discrimination against the large of build.........

I've been complaining about this since last year when I first heard about it. As someone who lives and presents as a gender other than the one identified on their birth certificate, I seriously don't need people peeking under my clothes in order to get onto an airplane. It's stressful enough for me to hand them my drivers license!

I don't like the idea of them photographing people who don't want to be photographed, the potential for abuse, the potential for problems with the trans community, and the problems with photographing minors (especially in a case if the minors are flying alone). It was a bad idea a year ago, it's still a bad idea now.