Can Homeland Security Be Convinced to Suspend the Airport Body Scanner Program?

By: Harry Waisbren

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee has a new report on the broad yet ideologically diverse coalition of over thirty organizations that has come together to put a stop to this blatant example of “security theatre”.

They have already filed a formal petition with the Department of Homeland Security, and the timing is especially important as evidence comes to light showing that the privacy safeguards don’t work while the devices just are not very effective.

The organizations contend that the body scanners are not effective and are not designed to detect the type of powdered explosive that was involved in the December 25 incident. They also say that the privacy safeguards do not work and that the body scanners violate sincerely held religious belief.

Margaret Fung, Executive Director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said: “The use of full body scanners, without any clear alternative procedure, has violated and will continue to violate the civil rights of Muslims and other religious groups. We hope the Department of Homeland Security will reconsider its policies and act quickly on this petition.”

The groups contend that body scanner systems are “uniquely intrusive” and subject all travelers to an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. They also say that the Department of Homeland Security failed to comply with the Privacy Act when it did not inform the public about this new system that would collect personal information. And they say that the Chief Privacy Officer violated the law when she approved the program.

Chip Pitts, President of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), said “The program should be suspended. The body scanners don’t work for the purposes claimed and actually harm true security by diverting scarce resources and offending allies and populations critical for genuine intelligence.”

Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said, “The government’s use of invasive imaging technologies strays beyond both the limits of what is constitutionally permissible and the agencies’ representation of their own capacity.”

The 30 organizations who have signed this petition include the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), the Center for the Study of Responsive Law (CSRL), the Liberty Coalition, and Public Citizen.

Certainly a very worthy effort, as “security theater” encompasses far too many of the privacy degrading policies our government has enacted—a Bush administration course that we continue to encourage President Obama to change.

I find it particularly unfortunate that Pitts’ point on how body scanners do not  “work for the purposes claimed and actually harm true security by diverting scarce resources and offending allies and populations critical for genuine intelligence” could be very easily applied to oh so many controversial civil liberties infringing policies.

Our country deserves actual security, and we just can not afford this sort of harmful stage play.

UPDATE: audio is now available here.

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