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How revealing is an X-ray scanner?

Just as luggage is systematically X-rayed to see what's inside, the Met Police have tested a scanner which looks through clothes for drugs and concealed weapons. But is modesty preserved?
An electronic strip search
An electronic strip search
In just six seconds, an X-ray scanner can produce a 360 digital image of the body - minus clothes.
This is no coy version of James Bond's X-ray specs, in which 007 can see the hidden guns - and saucy underwear - which lie beneath a villain's garments.

What shows up is the naked human form and anything concealed on the person: coins in a pocket, trouser studs, metal or ceramic knives, guns, explosives, drugs. The shin bones, which lie close to the skin's surface, can also be seen, as can features such as the cleft between buttocks.

Just such an X-ray scanner has been used by UK police for the first time, during a pub raid last Friday night. Those rounded up were given the option of a body search or this electronic strip search.

Of the dozens searched, the majority opted to be scanned. Arrests were made for a range of offences including cannabis possession, handling stolen goods and carrying a knife.

The X-rays in effect strip you naked - little is left to the imagination, says Superintendent Malcolm Baker, who was involved in the use of the scanner. "It's very graphic."

Birthday suit

Steve Smith, the American who invented and developed the Secure 1000 scanner, says privacy is an issue.

"The general outline of the body can be seen, along with some blurry details of the anatomy. It shows about as much as if the person were wearing a tight bathing suit. Obviously, it must be used with discretion, such as ensuring that the monitor is visible only to the security screener."
Already the scanner is in use in the US and worldwide in airports, embassies, court buildings, prisons and government properties. While modesty was preserved during the police operation by the scanner - and its operators - being hidden away in a mobile unit, civil liberties advocates have raised concerns about an operator's code of conduct and any risks of passers-by having a look.

So the scanners can be fitted with a modesty filter which adds a fig-leaf to the birthday-suited subject.

"What it does is reduce the resolution at certain parts of the body, much like a broadcaster can pixilate someone's face," says Angus Fowlie, of the manufacturer, Rapiscan.

While the scanner is more invasive than a conventional metal detector, Dr Smith says it is more effective as it can detect "21st Century weapons" such as explosives and plastic guns.

"At present, the only way of locating these dangerous items is through a pat-down search, where the security officer rubs his hands over the person's body."

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3578417.stm
How worried are you about being naked? 31.Mar.2004 12:22


This false modesty is just plain silly. Just look at network TV-- bare everything everywhere.

If weapons hidden in clothes are the problem with safe flying (a premise that begs for proof)-- but assume that they are-- then wouldn't it make sense to just fly everyone naked?

They could pick up their clothes upon return, or they could be sent on a separate plane. I suppose the passengers could be allowed a hospital-type gown and prison-type shoes-- to be supplied by the airline to ensure safety-- if people insisted on some vestige of modesty.

The obvious answer to a pub raid 31.Mar.2004 15:05


Is physical resistance. I have been in a number of situations where cops tried to start trouble in clubs but left on meeting serious opposition. One time, three cops started arresting people in a heavy metal club, and I got 200 people to turn on them. they called in backup, got only 10 more, and went outside and took up a defensive position. Another time, they came in, tried to arrest someone for underage drinking, bu it was closing time. We blocked the door, and gave the cops the choice: leave or face a college town drinking riot.

Cops know damned well that if someone throws the first bottle in a pub raid, there will always be a second, and a third-and then it's ON...

Being naked is one thing, shooting me with x-rays is over the top 31.Mar.2004 21:35

question hi-tech

It's funny to me that the issue is about modesty, but no one is raising the issue of health concerns with being shot by x-rays. In general we are subjected to so much invisible noise. I can't believe the irreverent use of infared, microwaves, emf, x-rays, and who knows what else, is without consequence.

Invasive Voyeurism 31.Mar.2004 21:38

Cheney Watch

I've wondered whether they are essentially doing a "hands off" cavity search with x-rays. Can they see if someone's got a box-cutter up their ass? If not, how could they tell the difference between that setting off an alarm and the metal plate in some veteran's skull?

I don't have any piercings, but I can also see why someone who either can't remove everything without a lot of trouble, or just doesn't want to, could be terribly embarrassed by such x-raying. They're probably choosing to ride the bus.