David Wylie, Canwest News Service
Friday, June 20, 2008
Security officials at Kelowna airport will soon be undressing passengers with their electronic eye.
Starting next week, passengers travelling though the Kelowna International Airport will be asked if they’re willing to be scanned by technology that allows an officer the “see” through their clothing in search of weapons or explosives.
It’s a breakthrough that airport and security officials say will make air travel safer and security lines shorter. However, one civil rights group is calling the technology “an abomination” and a “virtual strip search.”
A computer monitor reveals details of the body of a fully-clothed woman as she is scanned inside a ProVision whole body imaging machine at Los Angeles International Airport in April. A similar device will soon be installed in Kelowna, B.C.
The seven-day pilot project was announced Thursday by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, a federal government corporation that provides air security services.
Jenelle Turpin, spokeswoman for the Kelowna airport, said it’s the first airport in Canada to use the technology, and the first airport in North America to pair the full-body screening with a metal detector check.
The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada has said the pilot project meets all the conditions of the office.
Still, Micheal Vonn, policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said the images are so detailed they will reveal whether passengers have had vasectomies, penile implants, mastectomies or have a catheter inserted.
“Everything that is in and about your body will be screened, quote and unquote, for your safety,” she said.
“This is an abomination,” said Vonn. “They are wielding the mighty sword of vagueness about what kind of explicit images they’ll see. It’s a virtual strip-search. I think if people actually got to see what security people are seeing, they’d be breathless.”
Vonn urged passengers travelling through Kelowna airport, in the B.C. Interior, to express their enthusiasm for their right to decline being screened because such a pilot project hints that the screening will soon be mandatory.
“The concept of consent is so slippery,” especially in the current “climate of bizarre anxiety and fear,” she said.
Kelowna was chosen as the test site because the airport has recently undergone major renovations to its departures area, and an ideal space where the previous security area was located could be easily converted for the pilot project.
Millimetre wave technology is used to do the full-body scan. It projects low-level radio frequency energy over and around the passenger’s body producing a three-dimensional image of the passenger.
Similar pilot projects are taking place at a number of U.S. airports, including Los Angeles International, New York’s JFK airport and Phoenix Sky Harbor airports.
Moscow, Osaka and Amsterdam airports are also using the technology.
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