When body scanners were initially developed by airport security firms, human rights and privacy advocates were appalled by the potential abuse for the government and private security details. A body scanner that not only can detect everything you carry in your inventory, but see right through your clothing was something that many were disturbed by right from the beginning. It was little comfort that the security scanners were used exclusively in airports. Now the fears voiced from the beginning by a large minority have been realized.
The Backscatter van as it’s called recently became a subject of major contention when an advertisement video for the device was posted on Youtube. The video in question shows an advertisement for the radioactive and invasive mobile body scanner whose vision can pierce through clothing, vehicles, and houses to see unsuspecting subjects within. The device can be acquired by security companies or investigators for less than the controversial airport security scanners, and can allow drivers an eye opening look into the lives of any it passes by with frightening accuracy. The scanners do not require a warrant or even probable cause to use, and the vehicles can be used to scan entire urban or rural streets at the leisure of the owners.
While the video proudly proclaims its ability to scan with incredible accuracy and attention to detail everything that passes by, the “ZBV” as it’s called is not questioned for its potential human rights violations or privacy concerns that it raises. Many are now asking whether we live in a world now where privacy is a thing of the past. Without even considering the violation this device poses to the fourth amendment (which covers search and seizure of materials) the scanner has a “creepy” vibe that many human rights advocates and citizens alike are declaring make this object a disturbing interpretation of the word security.
The object does have great potential to sniff out bombs, weapons, drugs, and other contraband, but it raises the question, what price have we undecidedly paid for this additional security? And who does this technology serve?
Advocates of the ZBV have pointed out that the device has in fact been around for almost a year now, and in the 500 units that could be roaming the streets few incidents warranting complaint are surfacing. But would those being scanned have complained if they knew what was happening? The device looks like a traditional moving van, which is one of the aspects the security company American Security & Engineering considers a selling point. They also declare that the radiation emitted from the van on passers-by is well within acceptable levels. Joe Reiss, vice president of AS&E also notes that the naked images of those it passes are not detailed enough for it to be of any major concern. Andy Greenberg’s blog The Firewall at Forbes.com included several disturbing quotes from Reiss including Reiss’ philosophy on the “image capturing” service the company provides.
Where will this technology lead us as a society?