The Naked Truth: Security vs. Privacy

NPR covered a story about security in Baghdad’s Green Zone, which centered specifically on one woman’s protest against the type of body scanning used: it doesn’t see hair or clothing, but sees the body, (I’m assuming metal) jewelry, and any prospective weapons. The body is rendered essentially naked (pictured here; picture from NPR).

Farah al-Jaberi’s objections (which are shared by other female workers) are mainly to male guards seeing their bodies through the scanner, and the worry that “images of their bodies can be saved and viewed by anyone later.” Al-Jaberi and other women won the right not to go through the scanners, until an incident last June with an American soldier. When al-Jaberi refused to go through the scanner, he verbally abused her, threatened to call the police on her, and pointed a gun in her face. Whoa, not okay. This incident is still being investigated, and currently, authorities have opened a separate gate for women.

First, I want to point out that I hated writer Corey Flintoff’s language. He points to al-Jaberi as a “matron,” which has implications of dowdiness and ageism. I have to wonder if he would have used the word “matron” if she hadn’t been wearing a headscarf and abaya, which he refers to as “drapery.” Just makes me think of window dressings. Judging a woman’s personality and age (and likening her clothes to window dressings) by what she’s wearing? Rude!

I want to focus on the scanner, however. There are plenty of issues here. #1: Just plain creepy. I don’t think anyone wants have their pseudo-naked body looked at on a daily basis by just anybody. This also gets into issues of ownership: we supposedly own our bodies and have “rights” to them: i.e., to keep them private if we want. This scanner removes a person’s right to their body, not only with the scanning itself, but with the possibility of saving one’s image and viewing or distributing it later.
But this issue is complicated by cultural and religious reasons. Many of those scanned are Muslim women, who believe it is not acceptable for men other than their family members or healthcare practitioners to see them in any state of undress, let alone butt-nekkid. This goes for male Muslim workers, as well—unrelated women shouldn’t see their bodies, either. Since Iraq is predominantly a Muslim nation, this becomes a cultural taboo as well.

Issue #2: Why was this scanner being used? Though the article points to the problematic concealment of the headscarf and/or abaya, the guards already search their bags. There are female guards who already pat them down in set-aside booths that are curtained for privacy. And al-Jaberi says that she (and the other women) don’t mind this. So why do they need a scanner that denudes someone?

You know those scanners they have at the airport? The ones that beep if you have metal and don’t beep if you’re okay? Why can’t they use those? Why used this type of scanner?

A person’s body is a complex and private possession. Nakedness has connotations of vulnerability and privacy (the latter being especially true to Muslims), and viewing someone’s nakedness without their acceptance or consent is not only a violation, but also a type of dominance. Maybe the scanner was introduced as a safety measure, but its presence implies dominance over workers: “We (the U.S. government) will look at you naked every day.” Because many of these workers are Iraqi, the dominance implied has political and imperialist overtones.

There is also a tug of war here between security and ownership of one’s body that goes past the “personal freedom vs. national freedom” debate that surrounds a lot of the irritating airline security checks (taking off your shoes, restriction of liquid, etc.) and illegal spying on U.S. citizens. This is more than throwing away your water bottle or having the N.S.A. listen to you chat with your parents. This is about somebody looking at you naked in the interests of “security”.

Would you be okay with that, especially if there are less invasive ways to ensure everyone’s safety? I wouldn’t.

Similar Posts (automatically generated):

68 comments for “The Naked Truth: Security vs. Privacy

  1. B.D.
    July 10, 2008 at 7:42 am

    I’ve never understood the purpose of showing the real body. It seems to me that they could impose an image of a generic torso and then superimpose any “hidden elements” (such as bombs or box cutters) on top of the torso. If item and location of item is the real agenda, then why go further?

    Secondly, why save the image? If the person passes the security screening, then any image should be immediately erased. What purpose does it serve to save the image for any longer? Oh, sure, someone could get through (in theory) and you’d have another investigation tool. If that were the case, presumably you’d know who got through and you’d be looking at why/how that person got through. Also presumably, your multiple layers of checking and your well trained personnel would prevent that. As with CCTV, the crime in this scenario would still take place and the chances of a scan being helpful in the investigation afterward are slim compared with the potential privacy concerns and costs.

  2. Yuri K.
    July 10, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I imagine the photos “are” deleted immediately after being looked at. You know, if everyone involved at every step of this process is completely trustworthy.

  3. Leo
    July 10, 2008 at 8:24 am

    “You know those scanners they have at the airport? The ones that beep if you have metal and don’t beep if you’re okay? Why can’t they use those? Why used this type of scanner?”

    Ha, the ones they used to have, you mean. Just to bring this home a bit…

    Similar machines are actively being used in the USA in at least 10 airports and reportedly in Heathrow as well. Here is the article in USA Today. They call them millimeter wave scanners, and everybody with half a brain is livid about them. The TSA finally (!) posted an image of what the scans actually look like on their blog. Just read a few of the comments and you’ll see how upset some are. You can also google “millimeter wave scanners.” The ACLU is trying to fight it. The TSA is giving no real information to travelers about the scans, or that they’re optional.

    So all this nonsense affects everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or geographical location.

  4. Emily
    July 10, 2008 at 8:35 am

    Leo beat me to it — I was going to say that that scan that’s being shown in the press was a reporter who was covering the story of these scanners (they’re also called backscatter x-ray) who volunteered to be scanned and show the images so that peole would know exactly what they are being looked at.

    I make the sacrifices to trust my doctor to see me naked. It is a necessary part of some things that she (or he) does, and she’s gone through a lot of training and, one presumes, has learned to be respectful throughout all of that. I do not trust a random TSA agent to see me naked. Or a random soldier. It isn’t necessary, and I don’t believe they will be respectful.

  5. July 10, 2008 at 8:45 am

    When these first showed up, with that same exact image, there were all sorts of reassurances that there would be same-sex screeners, in effect making the whole thing similar to the way pat-downs are handled right now. Obviously they’ve abandoned that idea if you look at the coverage about the usage of these things in the US too. And it’s not like there’s much of a significant reason for that other than not wanting to hire two people.

    Supposedly, the procedure at the airports in the US that use these is that you can opt for a pat-down instead — which are still same-sex. I will be opting for that route, since it just seems less invasive to me. (Personally.) I do know people who have had to out themselves as trans after a pat-down though… none of these age-of-paranoia “pretend we’re secure” tactics are unproblematic OR fool-proof. I mean, one scientist says you can sneak stuff past this, even weapons, by using flesh-like latex coverings.

  6. UnFit
    July 10, 2008 at 9:43 am

    You can always get *something* through any secutrity system – nothing works 100%

    I’m with B.D., I think the creepiest part is that they save the image. Wtf!? What do they need those for? Will the prints eventually show up on the inside of some G.I.’s locker? Or will there be a huge locker in some government department with nekkid pictures of *everyone*?
    Really, what the hell is the purpose of that?

    I’m not at all concerned about my own personal modesty, I’d merrily take my top off in the middle of the airport. And even I will opt out of that scan if in any way possible.

  7. Anna
    July 10, 2008 at 9:48 am

    I’d be fine with this, and I know that when someone disagrees in this blog, it often sparks a huge flame war, but I really don’t care about this. I’m pro-body, pro-nudity, and I just don’t understand all the inhibitions surrounding ‘keeping your body private’ or ‘a temple’. This is merely another security measure in a dangerous time, and I can understand if you’re nervous about it, but that’s not much of a worry.

    I wish for a society where everyone is able to show their body without being or worrying about it being sexual. Unfortunately, the media tells us to make it sexy, and punishes us when we accidentally show it. And if you’re worried some people are going to masturbate over pictures of you, I hate to bring it up, but people probably still do masturbate to you- maybe with clothed pictures, maybe no pictures at all. Yes, it’s gross, and as a woman, I’m supposed to be against it, but it just. Doesn’t. Make. Me. Scared.

  8. Kaija
    July 10, 2008 at 10:01 am

    BD, thanks for the links and the article…this is news to me and I’m glad I’m now aware. If/when I fly through any of those airports and am selected for a search, I will request a pat-down by a female TSA officer. I don’t want my naked body viewed anonymously and under duress, and I would like to be able to look my TSA agent in the face, eye to eye, while the pat down occurs. I’m not overly modest, nor overly paranoid, but I do balk at being processed like a cow through a machine that displays me in a way I would not choose to be displayed and viewed by someone unknown to me.

  9. SoE
    July 10, 2008 at 10:11 am

    Ewwww, those scanners are crap, no matter who is scanned. This totally sucks. Why even bother to wear clothes anyway if random officers can see you naked? And who really believes they won’t start to replace metal scanners everywhere with this Superman-scanners? How long before someone pulls a collection of “hottest chicks I had in my scanner”-pics off the internet? Who would be comfortable having his or her kids scanned this way?

    Finally, some who wants malice will always find a way to circumvent security measures. I’ld rather see ideas directed at preventing people from getting terrorists instead of subjecting everybody to invasive methods and turning into a “guilty until proven otherwise” society.

  10. Kristen
    July 10, 2008 at 10:18 am

    “This is about somebody looking at you naked in the interests of “security”.”

    I think this is one of those things where choice is the key issue. Personally, I greatly prefer this x-ray machine to a pat down. I find being touched far more invasive than someone having that photo of me, particularly one that looks nothing like me.

    Also, we’ve allowed people to look at me (personally) naked numerous times. I get strip searched about a third of the time when I fly. TSA apparently thinks I’m hiding something in my cleavage. And that is a person…staring at me…in the room…in the flesh…not a weird looking xray that doesn’t have features or hair…but the actual me.

  11. July 10, 2008 at 10:20 am

    What? The TSA has a blog?!?

    Anyhow, I do think that a forced MMW scan is a violation of privacy. The option of having a pat-down instead of such a scan mitigates that violation a bit, though for some people, either one would be pretty bad. For me, I know that I already have enough gender panic when going through airports. The one time I was selected for a pat-down, the TSA employee called for a male checker. Correcting them and dealing with their shock/surprise was pretty uncomfortable for me, and I imagine others would take it even worse. I worry that the people checking these MMW scans might have really bad reactions when people’s essentially naked images aren’t congruent with assumptions made about them because of their outer appearance.

  12. SoE
    July 10, 2008 at 10:21 am


    I actually wouldn’t have a problem with a nude society. But I do have a problem with a society where we wear clothes and regard nakedness as a part of your privacy and the government/companies decides to randomly invade this.

    Imagine if we would never tell how old we are and when we were born. Or just some other taboo. And then out of the blue everybody would have to carry the birth certificate all the time and show it if they boarded a plane. That would be a similarly humiiliating experience in my opinion even though essentially nakedness and your birthday are pretty normal and natural things.

  13. July 10, 2008 at 10:27 am

    hell NO. If it was me, I would have protested too.

  14. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Anna … that’s your personal feelings. And the problem is, nakedness IS usually thought of as sexual — it would be great if it wasn’t, but it is, and so how can you begrudge someone if they are uncomfortable being seen naked by total strangers? And there are cultural and religious feelings and beliefs to respect.

    “This is merely another security measure in a dangerous time, ”

    Merely? How many more “security measures” do we need that DO NOT REALLY WORK. As someone mentioned above, you can easily get passed this “security” device.

    The TSA has a lot — a LOT — of bullshit “security” rules that just don’t work, especially considering the officers never seem to be that well trained, aren’t really paid well, and there is always some huge fuck up in the news regarding them.

    Pointing a gun at someone’s face and threatening her because she refuses to be seen naked by a stranger? Awesome, right?

  15. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 10:39 am

    To give you an idea — I ended up flying from Ontario, CA to Las Vegas, NV THE DAY of that “almost terrorist attack” almost two years ago. The day we suddenly could no longer carry any liquids.

    Security was very high that day, of course, and I accidently “snuck” in several liquids (that I did not know were packed in random pockets of my carr on). I also “accidently” (as an experiment) snuck them in AGAIN when I flew back from Vegas home to Phoenix a few days later — and it’s not like I hid them well.

    I mean, this no-liquid bullshit is, well, bullshit, and this isn’t any different, if you ask me.

  16. Anna
    July 10, 2008 at 10:54 am

    CM, I’m not begrudging anyone, if you read my comment- I just have difficulty grasping it.

    And the point of introducing new security measures to the public is to TEST THEM OUT. Yes, it may not work- then we’ll discard it and find a new one. Yes, that one might be faulty- then we’ll discard it. Rinse, repeat.

    Do you honestly think that they can train so many security guards properly? That’s a bit too generous of you to think that- after all, TSA is bullshit, right?

    Uhm, I’m pretty sure that they’re not going to point a gun at you. And I’m sure that perhaps, in some places in the US, they’ll make it optional- either that or go through extensive search. And why are you saying ‘she’? This applies to BOTH genders, both brothers and sisters. A woman can masturbate to pictures as much as a man, please don’t act unfeminist.

  17. Farhat
    July 10, 2008 at 10:55 am

    As someone with a Muslim name and a somewhat frequent flier I find this far better than having to wait in line for a patdown and random people feeling me up.

  18. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Kristen, do you fly internationally? That’s really shocking that you’ve been strip-searched. A (beautiful) friend of mine was once almost strip-searched when she was 16, she started sobbing, and the searcher (who was the only one who’d been nice to her and who was MALE) let her go.

    I swear they go after women they want to see naked.

  19. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Anna, I don’t like people seeing me naked. That is my CHOICE. I have no problem with the nude human body, I think it is beautiful, but I like to have control over how I present myself to other people.

  20. Rebecca
    July 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

    Anna, English lacks a neuter pronoun, so “she” is as valid as “he.”
    If you read the post, Farah al-Jaberi was indeed threatened with a gun for refusing to go through the scanner.

    While they may only be testing it out, it’s still a heinous invasion of privacy – that’s what’s at stake here, not whether or not this or a thousand other methods work.

    No one’s asking you to feel uncomfortable with going through such a scanner, but please respect other people who would feel uncomfortable.

  21. July 10, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Leo, thanks for posting the link to the TSA’s blog. Some interesting comments there.

  22. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 11:42 am

    BTW, recently on plane flights, if I were traveling in a suit, they would ask me to take my suit jacket off. (I think this was in March-April, haven’t traveled in a suit since then.) Some of the time, I would say, politely but firmly, ‘I’m sorry, but the shirt underneath is not appropriate.’ That seemed to work. ‘But this is part of my suit!’ Did not. My coworker took the former approach, and one of the screeners said, well, that’s okay, it is fitted so we can see well enough. After we got through the line, she and I were talking about how creepy that comment was, and we wondered, see what? Her boobs? What about those older ladies who wear the big applicaed sweatshirts? Why do I have to take my suit jacket off, when others wear clothing that baggy? Grr.

  23. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    “And the point of introducing new security measures to the public is to TEST THEM OUT. Yes, it may not work- then we’ll discard it and find a new one. Yes, that one might be faulty- then we’ll discard it. Rinse, repeat.”

    Sure, that’s one of the points. But how many “security” measures are still there that … don’t work? And have never worked? Like … oh, I don’t know, the silly no-liquids thing? There are many sites out there that document how easily someone can sneak something in if they want to badly enough. Or sometimes, not even that badly.

    “Uhm, I’m pretty sure that they’re not going to point a gun at you.”

    Uh … really? Did you READ THE POST?

    “Al-Jaberi and other women won the right not to go through the scanners, until an incident last June with an American soldier. When al-Jaberi refused to go through the scanner, he verbally abused her, threatened to call the police on her, and pointed a gun in her face. Whoa, not okay. This incident is still being investigated, and currently, authorities have opened a separate gate for women.”

    An American soldier pointed a gun at someone who refused to go through the scanner. And verbally abused her. And threatened her. This is why I say “her” though you are right — this could happen to men and woman alike.

    I honestly think this is just yet ANOTHER way to legally invade our privacy.

  24. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Also, please note: Pointed a gun AT HER FACE. This was to intimidate her, not due to any threat to the American soldier.

    Awesomesauce, right?

  25. DAS
    July 10, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    Would you be okay with that, especially if there are less invasive ways to ensure everyone’s safety? I wouldn’t. – Fatemeh

    I like to have control over how I present myself to other people. – Ismone

    That’s the real issue, isn’t it? Power? I betcha the people who’ve thought of this device figure it is a less invasive way to ensure safety because they themselves are generally American males who are in positions of privilege and power and whose bodies are not generally objectified or sexualized. To them, having an image of their body would be less of an invasion than having someone actually pat them down.

    OTOH, if your body is constantly objectified and/or sexualized in your society and you are made to feel that to be naked is to be vulnerable and to be in a position of being automatically seen as a sexual object, then being even via scanner stripped of your clothes is extra-ordinarily disempowering and indeed an act of violence.

    I might be ok with the scanner, but if I were in a decision making position, I would need to realize that other people would not be ok and would find alternatives that already exist to be less invasive.

    Oddly — how come they always talk about scanning of women? is it because the media realizes that, due to the different ways in which men’s and women’s bodies are viewed by society, there is more of an issue for this sort of scanning of women? somehow, given the nature of the coverage, I think not … somehow I think what’s going on is that the scanning process is inherently objectifying and in our culture, we view women’s bodies as objects — so of course, you’d show the objectifying scan of an object.

  26. July 10, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    And why are you saying ’she’? This applies to BOTH genders, both brothers and sisters. A woman can masturbate to pictures as much as a man, please don’t act unfeminist.

    Statistically speaking, no, even though we can, women don’t masturbate to pictures as much as men do. It’s not unfeminist to point out that men and women, on average and despite many exceptions, are socialized in different ways that puts women at greater risk of having a naked image of them used in sexual ways that they don’t consent to. That’s not too hard to grasp.

    Another problem with “testing this system out” is that, as some of the linked coverage points out, many people being put through this system in an airport have no idea what is going on when they’re being scanned. They don’t know that a basically-naked picture of them (even if their face is unidentifiable) is being taken and sent to a computer somewhere else for someone to look at, save, and potentially do whatever else they want with it. (Because there’s also no real way to prevent leaks.) IF this was a real test of introducing a security measure to the public, they would make sure everyone knows what it does so they can make an informed choice about what they feel comfortable with.

    And sure, maybe a lot of people are fine with this. Maybe they don’t care, or find it less invasive than a pat-down (not hard to understand) or maybe they’re fine being nude like you, Anna. That’s great for you. But even in an ideal world, do you think nudity should be compulsory? Or should people have a choice of who they show parts or all of their body to? We live in a world where all bodies are not equal. Male bodies are not as likely to be sexualized as female ones. Clothed bodies, especially if you get to pick the clothing when you get up and go to the airport, are not as likely to be sexualized as nude ones. Some bodies are considered freaky, exotic and fetishized, or gross. I happen to have a body like that, so I am concerned about involuntarily having to submit to nude photography.

    Uhm, I’m pretty sure that they’re not going to point a gun at you.

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that. People who are the “wrong” race, religion, have difficulty communicating, have a gender that makes security feel uncomfortable… and the list goes on, are all at higher risk of some kind of major escalation in the name of “security.” The scariest moment for me when traveling abroad is almost always when I’m coming back through customs and immigration, because the INS has carte blanche there, to do whatever the hell they want. As if the above wasn’t enough, they sexually harass plenty of people too — I just talked to a visitor from abroad last night who was subjected to all sorts of unwanted sexual innuendo from an INS officer and felt like she couldn’t do anything about it because at the border, they have all the power.

  27. 1st_of_5
    July 10, 2008 at 12:17 pm

    i fly internationally quite often and have been amazed at the lack of consistency among screeners and what i’ve been able to slip through with my hand luggage. only once was i ever stopped because of the liquids in the carry-on. and do you know what they wouldn’t let me bring on the plane? unopened olive pate. wtf?! back to the topic, i’ve been pulled aside and selected for multiple screenings or even pat downs far too many times to think it random, and yet they’ve still managed to overlook the tube of lip gloss i left in my purse or the shower gel/shampoo in my carry-on bag. i’ve been told to remove a tight knit winter cap, cardigans (the thin, 3/4 length sleeve variety), scarves (the summery, linen or cotton ones) and a suit coat like the above poster. other times i’ve gotten through just fine dressed as was. whenever i questioned one of the above searches (or seizure in the case of the olive pate), i was threatened with detainment and the implied threat i would miss my flight and perhaps be arrested.

  28. DAS
    July 10, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    BTW … we do remember that in the Bible the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” means “have sex with”? Sorry to equate what is to some a preferable method of security and even to others only a relatively minor act of violence with rape, but in some ways, when someone takes a picture of your naked body without your meaningful and free consent, that is on the same path of violence over your body as rape, isn’t it?

    And since the issue is one of who has the power over whom by treating an image of one’s body as a sexual object, I would go even further than Holly above and say that not only is it more likely for a man to masturbate to a woman’s picture than the other way ’round, but it is more injurious as well.

    As a man, I do not have the “joy” of having my body constantly objectified and sexualized and the powerlessness that comes with that constant objectification and sexualization. If such a thing were to happen with me, it might even boost my male ego a bit. I’d be more concerned with people laughing at my, um, shortcomings, than anything else.

    OTOH, woman’s bodies are constantly being sexualized and objectified and yet another action that renders a woman powerless over her own body and what happens to it (or an image of it) is a further threat to her autonomy, about which I am privileged, as a male, not to have to worry.

  29. UnFit
    July 10, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    Yea, thanks SoE and others for already pointing it out.

    I have no problem with nudity.
    I have no problem, in fact, with men or women (or transpeople for that matter) wanking to naked pictures of me. I’ve offered them up for just that purpose on various occasions, with or without payment, and with or without knowledge who was on th eother end.
    I swim naked too.

    But you know what, even I want to be asked first,a nd I would like to be at the very least informed before some random dude at the airport keeps a naked scan of me.
    I would also like to at least be informed who gets ot hear my phone conversatins and read my letters and email.
    I might not have much to hide, but I still want that to be my own decision.

    And hey, I’m not transgender, but I as well as most of my friends have body piercings in places we don’t like to discuss with random strangers either.
    Since their individual metal content is about the same amount as a trousre button, they don’t set off most metal detectors in airports, but in that blurry scan image, my crotch area would suddenly look very flashy.
    Again, I would like to decide who gets to see that bit when and in what setting, and airport checkin with random strangers is not on my favourite list.

  30. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Also … I don’t know if I agree with “Well, if there is a choice … choose to be patted down, or choose to go through the scanner!” For one, how often will the person ACTUALLY be able to choose? I’d be willing to bet that plenty of security officers — the ones in power, the ones able to detain, threaten, and intimidate you (especially if you’re from another country, or a minority) — will use their place of power to force you to scan and/or be patted down, regardless of what you actually want.

    How often have we heard in the news about similar things? About how women are harassed about what they wear on an airplane? Etc? You’re naive if you think that there is any real choice in the matter.

  31. Kristen
    July 10, 2008 at 12:30 pm


    I’ve never been searched on an international flight…only on flights coming in and out of LAX and various DC airports (I live in DC and my family is in Hawaii, so I’m frequently in these airports). The first few times, the screener said it was because my underwire was “too thick” (I have 34KK breasts, of COURSE the underwire is thick…I need steel girders to keep the damn things in place). When I switched to wearing not wearing a bra on red-eye flights, I was still searched…so I’m pretty damn sure that was not the rationale.

    As for just wanting to see people naked…I don’t think that’s the issue…at least I hope not.

  32. UnFit
    July 10, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I never find it okay to take away someone’s private choice in the ironic name of more freedom for that exact person.

  33. McLean
    July 10, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    The reason for these machines rather than metal detectors is that they detect things other than metal – they can find plastic explosives, plastic or ceramic guns, etc.

    A number of years ago, I had an internship working with these things – it was assumed from the start that of course we couldn’t have screeners actually looking at these pictures, and so we were developing an automated system that would do exactly what B.D. says in the first comment – show a generic torso and highlight areas where potential threats had been identified. No human screener ever saw the actual millimeter wave photos – they were just processed by computer, and then the human screener only saw an anonymous outline of a human body, with red splotches indicating areas where something suspect had been found.

    We were able to get automated methods that could perform at least as well as, if not better than, human screeners.

    So, when I started hearing these stories, I was completely baffled. There’s absolutely no reason for a human screener to be looking at these images. The technology has already been developed to avoid exactly this problem.

  34. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    And just to make myself clear, I of course think there needs to be some security measures in airports. However, I think quite a lot of the current security measures and rules are total b.s. and really only for show than any thing else. Also, airport security is obviously used as a scare tactic. “TERRORISTS LURKE!!(*&*$@!!!!”

  35. Dire Sloth
    July 10, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    I read about something like this somewhere. Either in Wired magazine or Mental Floss magazine. Anyways, they started using this system in U.S. airports and, as you might expect, a controversy developed. Ultimately, they ended up modifying the program so it superimposed any anomalies on a pre-generated gender-neutral figure. I don’t see why they couldn’t just do that with the ones in Iraq rather than just get rid of the system, as the system seems ultimately superior to traditional metal detectors.

  36. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Dire sloth: I believe you’ve been misled. Check out the link in comment 3, and check out comment 33.

  37. Katherine
    July 10, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I’m not Muslim, or member of any kind of religion. I’m pretty comfortable with my body and don’t consider uncovering many parts of it as sexual (I’m currently breastfeeding, for example). But there is no way I’d be going through that scanner. Now, if the guard looking at the scan was naked, that might be different, but the power differential is glaring and deeply discomforting.

  38. Nora
    July 10, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    I honestly don’t understand the problem. These guards are going to be seeing EVERY SINGLE PERSON naked. It will be no big deal. And if you don’t go through them, you will have to be fondled by someone anyway. I, for one, am extremely frightened when going on planes, especially in the US. I mean, there are many things that people overlook while going through security. I feel that the argument against this is a bit classist. I mean, when an ob/gyn looks at you, or a doctor, naked, it’s okay because they’re PROFESSIONALS, but god forbid a blue-collar FSA employee does.

  39. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    No, Nora, not every single person, just those selected for secondary screening.

    And if I’m not comfortable with my doctor, as a person, I can tell them not to touch me, I can choose not to disrobe, and go my merry way. It has nothing to do with class—I don’t want anyone seeing my naked body (or something close to it) without getting to choose who that person is, and under what circumstances it will happen.

    Perhaps read a bit more about National security if you think commercial air travel is the biggest danger you face. It is not.

  40. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    “it’s okay because they’re PROFESSIONALS, but god forbid a blue-collar FSA employee does.”

    Um, yeah, this is kind of the point. Haven’t you been keeping up with the news? It seems pretty common that TSA and FSA agents abuse their power, or do very stupid things. I don’t have any confidence at all that these agents are well trained — that’s not necessarily THEIR problem, but rather that the funding and training just isn’t there. And I am willing to bet that a lot of these agents will use their power to coerce someone into doing something they don’t want — be it a strip search, a scanner search, or a pat down. I’ve seen far too many news stories and blog posts about this very thing.

    I’m sorry, I don’t think it’s classist to feel uncomfortable with an untrained individual who has more power than you seeing you naked.

  41. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    “And if I’m not comfortable with my doctor, as a person, I can tell them not to touch me, I can choose not to disrobe, and go my merry way.”

    This, Ismone! If you don’t comply with an agent’s request, then you very well may not be able to fly — or be otherwise harrassed. Or have a GUN POINTED AT YOUR FACE.

    That makes me uncomfortable. If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable … I think you are navie.

  42. Ms. Anon
    July 10, 2008 at 3:45 pm

    It’s really interesting that “doctors see y’all naked.” Do they not have gowns in your doctors’ office? Do they not have the little paper drapes? I’ve had all sorts of procedures requiring me to have several different body parts exposed and they generally only have the specific body part uncovered, and one at a time.

  43. July 10, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    I feel that the argument against this is a bit classist. I mean, when an ob/gyn looks at you, or a doctor, naked, it’s okay because they’re PROFESSIONALS, but god forbid a blue-collar FSA employee does.

    I don’t like going to the gyno for this reason . . . I’m very private when it comes to my naked body. I do it for my health, but you better believe that if my gyno started carrying a gun and had the power to arrest me, I’d stop getting in the stirrups. It’s not at all about class, it’s about privacy, power, and being able to determine the ways and times where you expose yourself.

  44. July 10, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    These guards are going to be seeing EVERY SINGLE PERSON naked. It will be no big deal.

    I find this argument pretty cissexist (among other problems). For some of us, being seen naked means revealing details of a medical condition we prefer to keep as private as possible.

  45. Ms. Anon
    July 10, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    There’s also the cost/benefit to you as an individual at a doctor’s office compared to going through one of these scanners. At the doctor’s, you are there to receive treatment for a condition, or to catch a condition you don’t know you have. That is a tangible benefit to you. You receive no tangible individual benefit to going through one of these, because you, as an individual, know that you are wearing an underwire bra or a pacemaker or a colostomy bag or an artificial heart valve or a medical implant, and not a bomb. You already know you’re not going to blow up the damn plane. If you pay the privacy cost of going through the machine, you receive no individual benefit.

    Now any benefit to individual flyers is whatever “peace of mind” they receive (however accurate it actually is) by having OTHER PEOPLE go through these. It is THEIR cost and YOUR benefit.

  46. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 4:35 pm


    You’re misreading me. I was disagreeing with Nora. As you can see from my posts upthread, I don’t like this stuff at all.

    I don’t think her “doctor” analogy applies because the patient has a lot more control in that situation. And the patient can choose to consent or not.

  47. July 10, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Also, if your doctor is taking naked photos of your entire body without your explicit consent, and he’s storing them somewhere and not telling you, there’s a problem.

  48. lou
    July 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    You know, that whole doctor thing? when I was in college, an Italian radiologist came to our school to learn the extra technology or whatever. He dated my roommate for a few weeks. And he told us stories about women getting X-rayed and how the radiologists would cluster around the X-rays of the women with…endowments, let us say.

    At least with an X ray you can find out if you have a health issue. All the security our great nation is putting in is worthless. it’s a kabuki dance. The countries with expertise, ie Israel, don’t do that kind of security shite.

  49. CM
    July 10, 2008 at 5:07 pm

    Haha, sorry Ismone — I was actually agreeing with you as well and just kind of expanding on your point. Sorry I did not make that clear. :)

  50. Nora
    July 10, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    A customer can consent or not as well. I mean, when one leaves the doctor’s office, they are leaving the medical knowledge they would receive. One can leave the airport. Also, I think that it is less invasive to be looked at naked through a scanner than physically searched by an FSA employee. Also, I think we are mixing up security in Iraq and in the United States.

    Lastly, though, I want to thank the commenters on Feministe for maintaining a high level of discourse. So many other blogs on the internet, a comment like mine would be responded to rudely, but I feel as though the responses to my initial comment were all respectful.

  51. July 10, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    sort of off topic…but even the paper gowns they drape you w/ at the doctor doesn’t cover much if you are bigger than a size 12. i am about a 14 and i can barely get the tie around my middle…i have to tie it at the very end.

    this isn’t just about sexualization or religion either. there are many many people w/ very difficult body issues they deal w/ who do not want people seeing their body fully clothed. i am one of those people. the thought of someone seeing me naked like that is enough to give me a panic attack. i do not trust random TSA people to not joke or shame a person for their body.

    i also agree w/ what Holly said about it possibly revealing a trans* person’s body. what is under a person’s clothes is b/t her/him and a doctor (if one chooses). I don’t see what this scan can do that a pat down can not, and to me it is not worth the emotional trauma. there are better ways to enforce security w/o humiliating and degrading human beings.

  52. Rebecca
    July 10, 2008 at 5:26 pm

    But Nora, it’s still an invasion of privacy whether it’s in Iraq or in the United States.

    Also, regarding the doctor analogy: In many cases it is necessary for the patient to be naked in order for the doctor to examine or operate. Airplanes, on the other hand, aren’t some kind of magic device that only transport you if you are naked. The security and the naked scanner are ancillary to actual air travel.

  53. July 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    I’m not fully comfortable with either an x-ray pictures or a pat-down. I have some differences in sensory processing and am quite uncomfortable with unfamiliar people touching me–not that the TSA people seem to care about that whenever the person I’m travelling with brings it up. But I’m also uncomfortable by the idea of a stranger looking at my naked body. So, even the “choice” is not really a fair and comfortable one.

    There is a need for some security system, but the current system is invasive as it is, and these kinds of machines amplify the problem. The fact that a soldier held a gun at this woman’s face because she refused such a privacy invasion is despicable. This was in Iraq, but that doesn’t make the invasion any less despicable, in response to Nora’s comment. I would hope that this is not the only effective way to screen for people carrying weapons.

    Commentators who have connected this to other issues of privilege are right on. Going through security can be a vastly different experience depending on race, gender, sexuality, ability, ect.

  54. DAS
    July 10, 2008 at 6:10 pm

    I think we are mixing up security in Iraq and in the United States. – Nora

    Actually it’s worse that it happens there. At least American citizens have a right and (so far still) an ability to seek redress. How would an Iraqi seek redress against a member of the occupying army? Even if “we’re better than Saddam”, the American army doesn’t answer to Iraqis and hence ultimately at some level a woman violated by an American soldier lacks redress.

    Moreover, it’s bad for America too — it means more people hate us.

  55. Ismone
    July 10, 2008 at 6:26 pm


    I remember being given attitude (not much, but enough) when I refused to take my underwear off because it was DURING MY PERIOD. I was like, no thank you, and they said, oh, we can get you this shield to sit on, and I almost took them up, but realized how stupid and dehumanizing it was, so I repeated the no thank you. (Good thing too, as predicted, I was there for half an hour.)

    Doctors can be annoying, too.

    And I don’t think the “just don’t go on the flight” is a good enough excuse. It just isn’t feasible in today’s world. I have a constitutional right to an expectation of privacy in my body, and a constitutional right to interstate travel. Granted, flying isn’t the only method of interstate travel, but in many cases for someone in my line of work, it is the only feasible one.

  56. July 10, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    Ismone, I got upset about that too. I can understand if I am at the OB/GYN, but I need to not be waiting for an hour. For a routine doctor I usually go in PT gear, like comfortable sweats and a loose fitting top. There is nothing they can not examine there in my clothes that they could in a paper gown. I don’t know how it is w/ men at the doctor, not being one, but do they have to get all naked for visits, too? And I refuse to sit on a “shield” during my period. It is dehumanizing to be forced to sit in a puddle of your own waste. Plus, it’s not like you can shower or bathe there to clean up…you only get those diaper wipe like things, if that.

    Even when I objected to the paper gown b/c of the tie the doctor came in and decided he could show me that it would just have to fit. He reached around me like he was giving me a hug to tie the tie himself.

    No, not flying is not a good enough excuse, just like I shouldn’t have to give up medical care b/c I don’t feel comfortable at the doctor. It may not be written on any official documents but I feel I have a right to not be shamed for my body when I go anywhere. It goes right back to “my body my business”. I am all for security, for being safe, but there is a place where we need to draw lines in the sand and my naked body is that line for me. Period.

  57. Starfoxy
    July 10, 2008 at 8:08 pm

    And I don’t think the “just don’t go on the flight” is a good enough excuse.
    Just to add to your points, skipping the flight likely means you won’t get your money back (and the cost of tickets are non-trivial for the majority of people).

    Also most people aren’t taking flights just to see their city from the air, they go on trips for major things, important business meetings, moving, schooling, conferences, major life events– all very time sensitive things. Missing the flight likely means missing the very important thing you were flying for in the first place- which can have huge personal costs for the individual in question.
    That these sorts of invasions happen when the costs of opting out are highest is no accident.

  58. River
    July 10, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    Those of us with medical devices or implants apparently no longer have a right to keep them private. If you put me through that machine, you’ll see my catheter. If you pat me down, you’ll feel my catheter and order me to reveal it, because it sure doesn’t feel like a natural part of the body (and it isn’t). Someone with an ostomy bag is going to have the same sorts of concerns. What about our right to body privacy and not to reveal to the world what our medical problems are? Gone!

    I gave up flying several years ago. The only reason I would fly now is to go to get a kidney transplant. And even then, I’ll drive if I can possibly manage it, or take the train.

  59. Emily
    July 10, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Please keep in mind that there are now signs that say that once you enter the screening process, you are NOT PERMITTED to choose to leave.

    This means that if I don’t like my doctor, I can leave. If I don’t like the TSA agent who is screening me, I have no choice in the matter. I am not permitted to tell him or her that I don’t want to continue and choose to skip my flight.

  60. July 10, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Those of us with medical devices or implants apparently no longer have a right to keep them private.

    thank-you b/c i totally forgot about that. I have a copper IUD…it shows up brightly in X-rays. I do not need that showing up in the airport for all the nice people to see. I don’t always get the nicest response from a new doctor about it, I certainly don’t need to explain that to a TSA.

  61. July 11, 2008 at 4:53 am

    These scanners are getting their first try-out in Canada at the airport in Kelowna, B.C. The scanned results are creepy. Not only that, when you’re standing in the scanner, you have to raise your arms above your head in what I call “the mammogram position”. I wouldn’t want to stand in an airport in that position, never mind getting my picture taken while I’m doing it. Thus far, you can choose not to have the scanner used and go through the regular metal detector thing. And Kelowna isn’t exactly the centre of the universe, though it’s a big tourist town, so my guess is they’re checking this out in a place where there’s not likely to be much danger if people refuse to use the thing. But when it gets used in other places, I bet that people who won’t do it will get patted down as a matter of course. As in, you must be a terrorist if you’re scared of the security device. They’re not in use much now and it’s still a choice. What do you want to bet it’s going to stay that way?

  62. Katherine
    July 11, 2008 at 5:05 am

    If these scans are brought in to US airports, expect even more people from outside the US to fly there. There are already a lot of people who have stopped any plans to visit the US for holidays, say, because they don’t want their fingerprints taken as if they are criminals, myself included. You think a ful body scan like this will improve the situation?

  63. UnFit
    July 11, 2008 at 6:07 am

    Okay, I somehow got massivley sidetracked by the whole nakedness thing.
    But in the end, yea, this is not about my vag bling, Fatemeh’s religious sensitivities or River’s medical condition.
    It’s not about U.S. vs. Iraq either.

    The much more important point is that we’re heading towards a world wide Orwellian surveillance empire where there simply is no opting out, of anything anymore.

    So far, yea, you can choose not to fly or to switch doctors (how about uninsured Americans btw who depend on local public clinics?)
    But warzone and airport security are only the starting points to a constant expansion.
    In Paris, oyu have to go through a metal detector to get to the luggage lockers at the main station, as well as to enter various tourist spots. In Italy, banks have heavy security doors you have to go through for even a simple cash withdrawal; usually witha fully armed military cop standing nthe outside. And let’s not get started on the ubiquitous British CCTV’s – I read this article somewhere about one pointing straight into somone’s bedroom window!
    In London, there is a sign on every CCTV so as to give you the hypothetcal otpion of dodging them, but I wouldn’t want to take on the task of finding the meandering path through heavy traffic and probably some of the sewer system that gets you from a to B without being filmed.

    And even without high technology, a friend of mine got pulled over by Bavarian motorway cops and strip searched for drugs because in their opinion he looked like a dealer (he never took or owned any drugs beyond nicotine, but that’s beside the point here).

    So even the way it is now, not tomention a few years down the road with wave scanners replacing CCTV and privacy rights hollowed out even more than they already are – tell me: where exactly is it I should seek exile if I don’t like it?

  64. July 11, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    How invasive. I guess mutli-cultural competency goes out the window here.

  65. July 11, 2008 at 4:14 pm

    Does this device see under folds of skin? Because I breastfed my daughter, if I’m wearing a more comfortable bra and not an uber-armor one (which I might do if I’m going to be sitting on a plane for several hours), my boobs do not form nice hemispheres that stand out from my body. Likewise, since being hugely pregnant, I have a poochy stomach that hangs down a little in the front.

    I’d hate to have to lift up my boobs or my stomach in front of a huge crowd while standing in a little glass booth. In fact, just thinking about doing that makes me freak out a little.

    Things like this can’t be helping the airlines make any money. I don’t think I’ll be flying again for a long, long time.

  66. Mercurial Georgia
    July 11, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    Um yikes, how does scans like this works? Heck, even regular x-ray would be an inhuman idea at checkpoints civi has to pass everyday in order to live their lives. Cancer?

  67. Ella
    July 14, 2008 at 3:01 am

    Invasive airport security is why I’m going to be taking a train from California to New York later this summer (about a four day trip with no sleeper car). I don’t want strangers touching me and I sure as hell don’t want them to be viewing me naked. Perhaps if I started crying if I was selected for a “secondary screening” they’d let me go without it (and I’m pretty sure I would start crying my eyes out if that happened since just thinking about it has caused tears as well).

Comments are closed.