Canadian Security Magazine

Will it be pat-down or body scan?

Jennifer Brown   

Features Opinion

Full body X-ray scanners are being deployed by Pearson International Airport and other major Canadian airports over the next few months. To date, one has been installed in Toronto with others to follow. So, if selected for secondary screening, given the option of a pat-down or the scanner, which will you choose?


When it was announced that the millimetre wave scanners were to become
part of secondary screening measures at Canadian airports following the
arrest of the underwear bomber on Christmas day, I decided I was more
than game to try out the technology. I’m not one to typically worry
about privacy issues when it comes to security measures.

The privacy mavens had given their blessing and the companies vowed
nothing too private would be revealed. But as time goes by I’m less
inclined to jump in until I know a little more —especially as other
nations hold back.
In early February the British Airport Authority (BAA) disputed a claim
by Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan that his naked image was printed and
circulated by body scanner operators at Heathrow Airport.

The 44-year-old actor said female security staff at the London airport
had printed his naked image, as captured by the newly-installed body

The airport officials said the claims made by the star on a U.K. talk
show were “completely factually incorrect” and a BAA spokeswoman said
the claims were outrageous because the body-scanning equipment had no
capability to print images. She stressed that images captured by the
equipment could not be stored or distributed in any form. Are we
inclined to believe the BAA official over an actor looking for
publicity? Probably.

The spokeswoman also added that the scanners had only been brought into
use four days before the talk show was recorded and was only used for
departing passengers, making it unlikely the actor would have used them
in any case.

The story reminded me a little of the hilarious Rick Mercer Report skit
that depicted Mercer going through a body scanner naked while screeners
drenched him with a fire hose and made jokes about his unmentionables.
All fun aside, some have suggested the scanners amount to virtual strip
searches. I know I should, if given the opportunity, choose the scanner
to see what it’s like, but something tells me the screeners won’t
indulge my curiosity to see my own scan. Instead, I think I’ll opt for
the good old-fashioned pat-down.

And it has more to do with what I believe is a greater issue here. Yes,
Transport Canada was considering body scanners more than a year ago,
conducting a pilot in Kelowna for six months, but in early December the
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) didn’t think they’d
be rolling them out in time for the Olympics — they were still talking
with Transport Canada. What a difference three weeks and an underwear
bomber makes. So, at the cost of $250,000 a piece and $11 million total
technology is the solution as opposed to using intelligence or better
trained humans to root out problems. Yes, CATSA has an RFP out looking
for a company to develop a behavioral observation system for passenger
screening at major airports — but it came after the decision to go with
body scanners.

But for now, we are happy to have the technology do the work. Will
terrorists find a way around body scan technology? Experts say yes — it
may not detect what’s in a body cavity. Then what?

— Jennifer Brown, Editor

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