15 October 2008

Privacy -- The Virtual Strip Search

The privacy theme is one that resonates in all manner of places and in a large number of countries. Australia is currently trialling body scanning technology at a small number of airports with a view to providing enhanced security for flights.

I have written on this previously here. The privacy issues here are that the technology does not have the ability to blur the genitals of the people that it screens. More accurately, it does have the ability to blur the genitals but the powers that be have decided not to. So, in essence the person sitting behind the monitor will be viewing you in all your glory. I wonder if they are taking volunteers for these screening positions.

The picture leaves very little to the imagination. It is worth noting that in this picture I can make out what appears to be bones in the lower legs and the knees of the person being screened. The idea is that the x-rays used are at the lower end of the spectrum and would require up to 10,000 screens before you would be in danger of excessive radiation exposure.

So, if you are a domestic traveller leaving Melbourne Airport over the next six weeks you may well be asked to test new x-ray scanners and not only be exposed to the x-rays but be exposed in other ways too.

The new X-ray backscatter body scanner has been described by some critics as a "virtual strip search". Looking at the image above you can see why. The trialling authorities have made it clear that they are not going to blur the images of the genitals. However, the technology has been set up so that faces are automatically blurred.

The blurring of the faces is an attempt to try and avoid claims that the technology violates privacy. Probably more important is that there are very explicit regulations in place with respect to the storage and access to any images that are saved. Even with faces blurred, the mere thought of these images appearing online in some porn site would bother many people.

The current procedures are that once a person walks through the scanner and they are clear of any nasty stuff like explosives, the screener presses a button and the image is automatically deleted. Sounds fair enough assuming that the screener is deleting the images.

Happy traveling!


Ben said...

Sure this is invasion of privacy. Totally with you.
However, if we consider the alternative, it is not very appealing: These days, when you go through security in some countries, if you are unlucky enough to be profiled you will be told to step aside, or to go to a little room where they will pat you down, or tell you to strip.
Or worse.
In addition to that, how do we know there is no security camera recording the whole process?

You are lucky that you look like a nice guy, Rob, so you probably won't be profiled.
I once traveled with an African official to the southern hemisphere. On other occasion with a South American, and once with a muslim friend who happened to be dark skinned and grow a beard.
Their experience going through security will make you shake your head in disbelief.
So if you ask this guys, they probably would prefer this machine.
Anything to stop them being harassed.

Just my opinion.

Rob Baiton said...


Nice to see you back and at it in my humble little blog :D

It is an invasion of privacy. However, I do not say that it is unacceptable. The alternative is potentially much worse.

I even think most people would be OK with it. Particularly if this was a proven guarantee of better security and reduced risk.

However, the "OK with it" here is dependent on such things as having provisions in place to protect people from exploitation of the images in any way, shape, or form.

On the personal experiences you have had traveling with various people, I understand those. Last time I went to the US I travelled with a group of Indonesian students to a Law Moot Competition.

After having gone through the process here it was bizarre to see all of the young men pulled aside and processed for a couple of hours, Muslim and Christian. The young woman in the group had no problems.

Admittedly, this was getting off the plane and not getting on it, but the idea of racial profiling or religious profiling or nationality profiling is something with which I am familiar.

Your opinions are always welcome around this part of the woods.

rima fauzi said...

finally .. we see packs instead of boobies..!! iam scared if this is implemented around the world. moreover if it is implemented in indonesia. i wouldnot want those sweaty bapak-bapaks in aiports with their beady eyes and little grubby hands to be able to see my private silhouette.. *shudders*

Rob Baiton said...


Couldn't agree more.

Every time that I am heading out of my office through the security gate if there are women behind me or in front of me they are subject to comments from the satpams.

I shudder to think what these fellas would be like if they managed to score screening duty at the airport.

Anonymous said...

When I googled this subject I found out that the machine looked like a revolving door of some sort which required whoever standing inside to lift up their arms and so on.

...and I know Amsterdam's Schiphol has such machine. I don't know if it's the same machine that can produce "naked" picture but the description of the machine resembles the one that I had been thru the last time I passed the security check there.


Anonymous said...


*gasp* so I was correct.

Rob Baiton said...


I will keep my eye out for your x-ray naked picture on the web.

I would imagine it is probably the same. I recall reading somewhere that the technology they are deploying in Australia is the technology they are using in Europe.

Don't ask me to point you to the link. It is just one of those things (aka useless trivia) that stuck in the brain.

Anonymous said...

As an alternative we could remove all security at the airport... Take pot luck on being on the one with the bomb.

Security is pointless unless its effective,

As an alternative to profiling we could have a voting system. How many passengers are happy to fly with the Bin Laden lookalike with the smoking backpack????


Elyani said...

It certainly is a pleasant job for the security guy. They get looking at naked people on a computer and get paid for it! I hope they get a real good picture of my backside, LOL!

Polar Bear said...

They can find more (and better) porn on the net.

They can see more flesh in the averaqe nightclub.

And given the alarming statistic that 1 in five women under 25 has agreed to be filmed having sex, I think most women wont care.

The Muslim women might object, which is perhaps where this story is heading.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with polarbear here. I talked to my boyfriend about it after I wrote my last comment and he just shrugged his shoulder. I guess the Europeans don't think it's such a big deal, at least I don't see any big objections with such scanner installation in Amsterdam. Everybody's cool with it and since nudity can be found everywhere (even on the side of a public bus), nobody really cares anymore.

The women in burqa, on the other hand, might have problems.

Rob Baiton said...


You are missing my point or simply refusing to acknowledge it.

I say that there are privacy concerns but that most people would be happy to go through the scanner if they know it to be safe and that this reduces the risk of hijacking or bombings while en route.

With respect to privacy the point is that if there are solid mechanisms in place to ensure that the images are not abused, then once again, I think most people will be OK with it.

Muslim women. Once again, I think if there is a need then the person doing the scanning can be a woman and this should alleviate some of the concern.

It might come down to, you can object or you can fly. Take your pick.


I wonder if there are queues for the opportunity to gain one of the screening positions. I don't know that people are all that worried about their butts, I think it is the front side that has people a little concerned.


Yeah, maybe Muslim women and Muslim men might have a problem with the female folk being scanned.

But, as I said earlier, it might come down to take your pick. You want to fly then you get scanned or you don't fly.

rima fauzi said...

im no muslim but im concerned about invasion of my privacy, and this is a clear violation of privacy.

and im sure many women feel the same way i do, religion aside.

especially if these machines are installed in indonesia. maybe the airport ppl in amsterdam or australia are able to be completely professionals and do not regard the visible body silhouette of a woman on the screen as anything other than their job, but in countries like indonesia where strange things happens, it's another story.

Rob Baiton said...


I do not think that it is a religion issue either. I was though addressing a specific statement that brought religion into play.

Polar Bear said...

Don’t be afraid to agree with me Writer, It wont earn you a lifetime of hellfire and damnation :)

I am fully agreeing with you. Either go through the screening or don’t get on the plane. The problem is there are some people who will object for various reasons. Civil liberties being one. Religious grounds being another. There may even be those who insist on peoples rights to get on a plane carrying a bomb for one reason or another.

I can pretty well guarantee that the screenings ARE videoed and kept. If a bomb went off on a plane they would be prime evidence to be searched.

Sadly its our only way of responding to a problem that started with a woman called Leila Khaled.


Rob Baiton said...


Don't know on the hellfire and damnation thing :D

The images would be kept if you are busted trying to sneak something on the plane.

My understanding though, and I could be wrong, is that if the x-ray scan is clear then the image is immediately deleted.

Anonymous said...

And so the pot's water temperature slowly rises, and the frog says "No, I think I'm still fine!"

The logic of "either submit to this invasive screening process, or you're advocating taking all security out of airports" is ridiculous. The same logic requires every passenger to be strip-searched with a full body cavity probe.

Reasonable searches are fine, but there's a spectrum, and stripping every passenger without exception (even virtually) crosses the line.

Connie Dobbs said...

I guess those who called me a fool for launching my brand of lead undergarments are feeling pretty foolish right now.

Polar Bear said...


you are right - best not agree with me or someoner we know will bombard you with insults. (I notice no one ever dare disagree with him - even when he says bule bloggers are useless).

Anon - you need to define a "reasobable search". May I look in your handbag? Empty you pockets please?

Rob Baiton said...


I am sure you have your reasons for being anonymous. I prefer pen names or people who blog under their real names. For me it is just about being able to distinguish between the different anonymous people.

Yes, I agree that this is a good case of incremental whittling away of privacy as it relates to travel. I agree that the screening is invasive. I agree that it is an invasion of privacy.

I think the idea of taking all security out of airports is also a silly idea.

Nevertheless, I still feel that if the proper procedures and mechanisms are in place with regards to the handling of the images of the people screened. Then there will be those that will be OK with the screening if they believe that there is an increase in the level of safety and a reduction in risk.

I don't know that I said everyone would be happy or OK with the screening process.

I guess the courts might have to determine what constitutes a reasonable search. This would be an interesting argument, if for no other reason than a reasonable search would seem to rely on there being a reasonable suspicion that the person to be searched is likely to be carrying something not permitted onto a flight.

Anonymous, thanks for dropping by and commenting whoever you are in real life.


I would think so.

So, are the lead undies heavy and difficult to wear?

I was watching something on Discovery Channel yesterday about a company that infuses copper into its garments as a means of killing off bacteria and viruses and other nasties. So, is it like that?


I think you disagree with "him" in a way that means the rest of us just get to sit back and watch.

Alternatively, there are two possibilities, most people agree with him or they cannot be bothered to write their disagreements down as comments on his blog.

On the reasonable search issue. I have responded to anonymous above with my take on the matter.

Polar Bear said...

You mean you agree with him that “bule bloggers are useless”?

incidentally, I didn’t disagree with him. He popped up on my blog disagreeing with me. (There is a big difference).

I closed my blog because of his endless abusive posts, and I have twice asked him to agree to end the feud.

Anythng else I can do?

Rob Baiton said...


Nice try with the first sentence!

If you read my comment in the Treespotter's post you will see that I said something along the lines of I am not sure whether I should be defending myself or nodding in agreement.

Despite the title of his post it would seem it was more a critique of others deciding who is qualified to comment and write on certain subjects.

The point in some ways of publishing a blog is to be read. This presupposes the good with the bad. In any event you were using a comment moderation feature that would allow you to screen comments and toss the inappropriate ones (in your view).

Moderating comments should mean that it is all water off a duck's back. He comments, you moderate, his comments disappear. Why close the blog?

Whether you gents end the feud or not is up to you. I don't see how it ends because both of you seem to enjoy the to and fro. Besides it has become increasingly personal and some of the things said in the public sphere about people not party to the dispute were unfair and wrong.

Do I agree with the Treespotter. On many things, yes! On many other things, no! Does it bother me or offend me that he thinks bule bloggers are useless, nope.

Anonymous said...

I’m not enjoying it Rob, and the sooner he stops the better.

I don’t believe in censorship (self or otherwise) but believe in reasonable and open discussion.

I didn’t bring the other people into the discussion, he did when he apologized to them by name on his blog for my “intrusions” (he owns the ###ing internet now?).'

Life goes on, and my taxes keep him comfortable. At least he is where he cant do any real harm.


Rob Baiton said...


This is what I do not understand. If you are not enjoying why prolong it.

Why don't you take the initiative not to work a cease fire but rather to just ignore it, a stopping of the stoking of the fire so to speak.

You do not need his agreement to stop, you can unilaterally pull the plug on your involvement in it by not contributing any comments or fanning the flames.

Reasonable and open discussion is fine. If someone is unreasonable then why up the ante by being unreasonable back? If you truly don't believe in censorship then why moderate comments? Is this in pursuit of the reasonable and open discussion.

Water of a duck's back.

Not everyone is polite in the blogosphere. It is an unreasonable expectation to think that they will be.

Your taxes do not keep him comfortable. He draws no more benefit from your taxes than you do from his.

This is the thing you assume so much about this fella, Treespotter, but know him through his anonymous writings. If you blokes want to go at each other then so be it.

I do not know you other than through your writings either but the idea that in some way your taxes are keeping Indonesian bloggers comfortable is as silly as it is arrogant.

Australian aid is not propping up Indonesian bloggers and keeping them in places where they can do no real harm. You do not know the fella and you are assuming he can do no harm, this might not be the case.

I am not taking sides one way or the other. I do not need to you are both capable of defending yourselves and making your own arguments to advance your cause.

This post was really about virtual strip searches and not whether two of my readers can kiss and make up and let bygones be bygones.

Polar Bear said...


sorry mate, I must have been wrong about Australian taxation rates being higher than Indonesian rates, and Australia giving massive aid to Indonesia.

How silly and arrogant of me.

Im sitting here waiting for the next food parcel from those high taxation paying Indonesian bloggers.

Rob Baiton said...


Whatever pal!

For a supposedly smart bloke earning big bucks and a holder of an MBA your simplicity of economic argument is sublime!

Your comments were directed at one particular individual and not the whole Indonesian blogging community. I generalized it to the whole blogging community.

You whinge that the Treespotter won't end this online flame war that you're having, why should he?

You consciously keep it going and he constantly responds. If you want it to end then be man enough to walk away. Take the high moral ground and turn your back and walk away.

You do not know him and he does not know you. You could leave it alone if you wanted to.

On the arrogance issue. Seems I have offended you. Australia's tax rate might be higher and Australia provides aid to Indonesia.

Both of these things are true. To suggest that it is Australia's aid that is subsidizing people like the Treespotter is off the mark and wrong.

However, it was a jibe you could not resist to make. For a fella that is seeking a truce and wanting to end this little flame war your approach seems to be like a parting shot before you retreat and try a flanking move.

If you begrudge your tax dollars going into foreign aid packages that benefit not only Indonesia but many other countries as well, then run for parliament and make responsible aid your platform. Or form a lobby group or an NGO that deals with the responsible use of aid.

Once again, the idea that your tax dollars as aid are subsidizing the Treespotter are silly. The manner in which you generalize all Mercedes driving Indonesians as people stealing your tax dollars is both silly and arrogant.

This is the beauty of anonymous blogging or blogging under a pen name. You won't have your friends, family, or employees questioning you face-to-face for the opinions you hold.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you've ever seen any porn on the web, but I really don't think that a black & white chalk drawing of even Anglina Jolie's best bits will get anyone off. I suspect the audience for this will be pretty small.

The images are not saved, full stop. That was made clear.

Rob Baiton said...


I much prefer people who are able to use their own name or at least a pen name so that I can distinguish who you are.

Anonymous is fine if you sign off with some distinguishing feature in your comment (your initials for example).

I think the post and the subsequent comments have made it clear that the images are not to be saved. This does not mean they won't be saved.

Second, the point of screening people is to ensure that no one is carrying things they should not be onto the plane. My guess is that is someone is and they get scanned and they get caught, then those images will be saved as evidence.

So, your certainty of the "full stop" is not entirely true, is it? Or is it your contention that if the screening process identifies a crime then that evidence will be destroyed as soon as the person steps off the screening area?

The image that is posted along with my earlier post is a little more interesting than the one with this post in terms of clarity,

But you seem set in your opinions on this matter so there is not a lot of point in exploring the issues with you.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend.