The Christmas Day terror scare has reignited the debate over new airport security scanners that show security officers a very graphic image of the exposed bodies of every single passenger passing through a security checkpoint. These new scanners reveal everything. Yes, we know what you are thinking. Everything means everything. So far they have only been installed in a handful of airports. Now advocates are clamoring for them saying that they are absolutely vital to national security. In fact, they say that these new "next generation" scanners would have detected the explosives sewn into the underwear of a Nigerian man who tried to blow up his flight over Detroit on Christmas Day. However, critics of the new technology are skeptical and say that other less intrusive methods would be just as effective and are warning that by allowing the government to look at our naked bodies we are losing our basic human dignity.
Right now the scanners are being utilized at a handful of U.S. airports, including Salt Lake City and Los Angeles International. The Transportation Security Administration previously announced that it planned to install 150 of the scanning machines for primary security screenings at airports across the United States, but the program has been slowed down due to privacy concerns.
So why the concerns?
Well it turns out that these new scanners reveal extremely detailed graphic images of the exposed bodies of airline passengers. These scanners even reveal intimate medical details such as colostomy bags and mastectomy scars.
Who wants an airport security screener to see that?
But former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff told the New York Daily News that it is time to quit worrying about privacy concerns and that the installation of the scanners is needed as soon as possible.
"Privacy advocates and the ACLU have slowed or stopped the deployment of the machines with a barrage of objections," Chertoff told the New York Daily News in an email. "The bad guys have figured out this vulnerability. Isn't it time we deployed these machines?"
Several airline passengers interviewed by the Daily News seem to agree with Chertoff....
"I don't mind [the scanner] because it would be in place for safety," said Samantha Day, 44, who flew into Kennedy Airport from London.
"It's no more invasive than someone touching every part of your body" during existing patdown security procedures, added Marni Blitz of Robbinsville, N.J.
But the truth is that many privacy advocates would like to see these new scanners banned. They say that these new airport scanners are so incredibly accurate that that they produce better quality images of your exposed body than a high quality magazine photograph would.
So if you would feel uncomfortable posing for Playboy, then you would really feel uncomfortable with the level of detail you would be exposing to one of these machines.
The reality is that these new scanners produce the closest thing that you can get to viewing a person's exposed body without actually seeing their skin.
Security officials in Australia where they have already installed similar scanners confess that these machines DO very clearly show the exposed bodies of passengers.
For example, Cheryl Johnson, the general manager of the Office of Transport Security in Australia, had the following to say about the intrusive nature of these scanners: "It will show the private parts of people, but what we've decided is that we're not going to blur those out, because it severely limits the detection capabilities."
Up until now, the TSA has insisted that there would be measures in place to prevent security workers from gawking at the exposed bodies of passengers all day long, but the reality is that there are no laws or regulations that limit how the TSA uses these body scanners - only policies that the TSA "chooses" to adopt. Any policy that they "choose to adopt" can be quickly discarded later.
And now after this latest episode with "the underwear bomber", there can be little doubt that homeland security officials will insist on seeing what is inside all of our underwear.
Isn't that wonderful?
So get ready for the new reality of airline travel in 2010 - where you have to let security officials look at your entire exposed body just to get on a flight.
If this is the "new America", it certainly does not seem as much fun as it was before.
And it certainly leaves us with a whole lot less dignity.