What happened to the (non-invasive) airport puffer security scan?
It was probably 2006 or 2007. Reno was the host city for a trade show for airport executives. The Reasonable Reporter is fuzzy now on the details, and was unable to get a memory boost on New Year’s Eve from airport spokesman Brian Kulpin. No doubt the poor man has been in high demand for the past week.
But it was Kulpin who escorted the Reasonable Reporter through the displays of airport wares, which spanned the spectrum from mundane items, like comfy seats for waiting at the gates, to the super-sophisticated “puffer machine,” which became the focus of the news report in no small part because of its signature sound – pfffff — a satisfying bit of ear candy for the radio bosses.
The “explosives trace-detection portal machine” was puffer’s real name, and its job was to detect and analyze tiny traces of certain chemicals carried on a passenger’s skin or clothing, including substances like, well, like PETN on the waistband after someone stuffed a bunch of it into his undies. So sensitive was the puffer, according to its company representatives, that a farmer sporting a tiny spec of fertilizer on the sole of his boot had set off its sensors. And to its great credit, the puffer was content to smell you. It didn’t undress you with its eyes.
What happened to the puffer? According to the Wikipedia summary, the puffer broke down a lot, and after initially planning to install it in 434 airports, the TSA decided in late 2007 not to order any more of the puffer. That date coincides rather neatly with initial stirrings of horror over something called the backscatter x-ray machine. You saw the images it produces on the front page of the New York Times this week. Lovely side-by-side front and rear shots of a male passenger’s anatomy in all its backscatter (and frontscatter) glory.
The Reasonable Reporter covered the privacy advocates earlier this year on the DataSecurityPodcast, as they lashed out against the x-ray machines. Electronic Privacy Information Center announced a campaign against “virtual strip searches” by TSA agents. It was a campaign that EPIC hoped would “go viral.”
It didn’t go viral. In fact, it barely broke the surface. There was no widespread public outcry against making it possible for TSA agents to peer into your shorts.
Now, though, in 19 American airports, guys you wouldn’t give the time of day at the local internet cafe can check out every detail of your unclothed body, without even taking you to dinner first. TSA’s initial installation plan to place the leering machine into five airports was expanded. EPIC filed a lawsuit earlier this month, seeking enforcement of a FOIA request. We shall watch to see where this goes, against the backdrop of the Christmas day undie attack.
Meanwhile, never wasting a good crisis, the D.C. lobbying firms have ramped up on behalf of the x-ray machines, holiday week or not. Read about it in the Washington Examiner.
More to follow.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized