Airport officials make plans to conduct virtual strip searches – By Janice Tibbetts
OTTAWA – Airport security officials are taking steps to conduct “virtual strip searches” of passengers at major Canadian airports, using digital body scanners that permit officers to see through clothing in search of weapons and explosives.
The controversial imaging technology was tested last year at the Kelowna International Airport in B.C. and now the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority is considering installing the scanners in seven more airports, subject to Transport Canada approval and the blessing of the federal privacy commissioner.
“It isn’t a done deal yet,” cautioned Mathieu Larocque, a spokesman for CATSA, a federal Crown corporation responsible for screening passengers and their belongings before they board planes.
The scanners, which produce three-dimensional images, are used in about 10 countries worldwide, including the United States, according to the CATSA website.
“Generally, it enhances security because you can’t conceal anything,” said Larocque.
During a six-month trial in Kelowna, passengers could voluntarily enter a large portal, similar to a phone booth, for about five seconds. The scanners used low-frequency radio waves to project a skeletal image to an officer sitting in another room. The images were then deleted and not stored.
The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says the scanners have been widely dubbed “virtual strip search machines” because screeners are effectively taking naked photographs of passengers.
“Clearly the public has not been squared with in terms of how graphic, nor have they have been told there is no compelling evidence to suggest they improve airline safety,” said the group’s policy director, Micheal Vonn. “We’re being told that in order to fly to Moose Jaw to see your granny, it is very important that we see every member of your family naked or we’re not safe. There is no proportionality to this plan.”
Vonn noted that a CNN reporter, who passed through a scanner at the Phoenix airport more than two years ago for a news story, said he was advised he should cover his “private parts” with a metal plate if he didn’t want them shown in TV.
CATSA, after its Kelowna trial ended in January, handed a report over to Transport Canada and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. While Larocque would not disclose the specific findings, he said the pilot project went well and CATSA is looking at buying seven new scanners.
Short URL: http://tinyurl.com/y9amsa4