Chaffetz: Mobile scanners invade privacy

Utah Daily Herald

Not content to keep security employees from ogling naked pictures of air travelers, Rep. Jason Chaffetz is going after similar technology driving down the road.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, saw a video this week for American Science & Engineering’s Z Backscatter Van. It performs in a generally similar way to airport body scanners, though instead of looking through clothes, the van-mounted machine sees through vehicles and cargo containers and spots bomb-making materials as it drives by. Pictures shown on the company’s web site show less detail of the human body, but it’s not just nudity that bothers Chaffetz — it’s privacy.

“Americans have a reasonable expectation for a degree of privacy,” he said. “I can’t imagine that that is legal and lawful. If (it is), then we’re going to have to change the law.”

He said he already has his staff working on it and will be sending a letter to head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and to the White House asking for all the instances where the federal government is using the technology. The company has sold more than 500 of the vehicles to U.S. and foreign governments, including law enforcement agencies.

The company hasn’t yet responded to a request for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah said that devices along the lines of the backscatter van take privacy intrusion one step further.

An airport scanner has a specific purpose and is in an easily identifiable place with an opt-out. A van driving down the street that is able to peer into vehicles or homes is something entirely different.

“To have police forces using these, I think raises huge concerns,” said Karen McCreary, executive director of ACLU-Utah.

McCreary says that American citizens should have a reasonable expectation to privacy whenever they step anywhere outside their home. That assumption may be difficult to prove given the ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that it’s OK for police to plant a GPS device on your vehicle while it’s in your driveway and follow your movements without a warrant.

A year ago Chaffetz was duking it out with the Transportation Security Administration over full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints. The scanners offer detailed pictures of what a person looks like under their clothes, including the sex of the person. The system requires the person viewing the image to be in a separate room so that they never see the person in question. The person’s face is also blanked out on the screen.

The situation culminated in a run-in at the Salt Lake airport. Chaffetz refused a full-body scan and was the subject of an extensive pat-down. He said he was singled out for opposing TSA employees’ attempt to unionize and for his stance against the scanners.

Chaffetz is running a bill to limit the scans in airports that has already passed the House of Representatives but has yet to be taken up in the Senate. He said this week that keeping laws current with rapidly changing technology isn’t easy but is necessary.

“It was humorous when it was in the Superman movies, but it’s dangerous now that it’s reality,” he said.

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