Manchester Airport trials virtual strip-search system

Rapiscan image (BBC)
Rapiscan image (BBC)

You would think after 4 years of trials at Heathrow, that British airports would now be able to work out whether or not they could and more importantly, should, use the various varieties of body scanners that are now available. However Manchester Airport is holding another trial starting from now at its Terminal 2. At least it will give a chance for the public to say what they think. The scans are remote – i.e.: the officer observing the images is not on the airport floor, which prevents the kind of scenario we mentioned in our Report on the Surveillance Society of lewd remarks directed at passengers. Personally, I am rather less concerned about this rather abstract view of my body being seen briefly as I pass through an airport than I am about my financial details and personal life being traded between private companies, or about being under constant video surveillance in ordinary public space in the city. However, the images, although ghostly, are detailed enough that genitals, deformities, medical implants and so on can be seen, and if this story is to be believed it would seem that there is no provision for women’s images to be seen by a women alone and men’s only by a man. This will make it entirely unacceptable to some people, in particular members of certain religious groups. But the scans are – at least, for now – voluntary, in that passengers can refuse and have a traditional pat-down search instead.

However, this technology won’t be staying in the airports for long. I reported back in July on stories that terahertz wave scanning could soon be made to fit into portable cameras. That raises a whole different set of social, political and ethical questions…

(Thanks to Simon Reilly for sending me the link)

Racial profiling hits a new low

Just when you think that state surveillance in supposedly free countries could not sink any lower, it has been revealed that UK Border Agency is finding a pilot project into using DNA and isotope analysis to determine the origin of asylum-seekers. This is not a joke or a scare-story. It is a real project. Science Insider has the details here. The Agency is refusing to say who is doing this research for them, nor has it provided any references to studies that show that what they are proposing will work. It appears that most scientists working in the area think it is based on entirely faulty premises and there is no reason to believe it will work. That’s only a minor objection compared to the political and ethical ones of course. As the story in Science Insider points out the Border Agency seem to be making a fundamental (and totally racist) error in assuming that ethnicity and nationality are synonymous. And this research would probably not got past any university ethics committee, which makes one wonder what kind of screening or ethical procedures the Border Agency used, and indeed who would carry out such an obviously unsound piece of research. It’s another example of increasingly unaccountable arms-length agencies (which have proliferated in recent years) using the ‘technical’ as an excuse to bypass what should be a matter of high-level policy, and indeed something that so obviously harks back to the bad days of Europe’s racist and genocidal past that it beggars belief that any sane official would have let this get further than a suggestion in a meeting.

(thanks to Andy Gates for pointing me to the story)

More border madness

I could probably blog all the time just about border surveillance and security issues… Aaron Martin has pointed out the reported latest new development on the Israel-Palestine border, which is an apparently arbitrarily used stamp which allows visitors to visit only the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and not Israel itself. Gaza remain closed to foreign visitors, and effectively an open-air prison camp.

It seems hard to define this as a ‘policy’ since the Israeli government officially deny that any order was given for the new stamp, despite the fact there is witness and photographic evidence of its use. Its purpose seems to be clearly to define for future reference, ‘enemies of Israel’ and to make it as hard as possible for those interested in the welfare of Palestinians to enter Israel.

Locational Privacy

PDF file

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a very good little report on locational privacy, “the ability of an individual to move in public space with the expectation that under normal circumstances their location will not be systematically and secretly recorded for later use.”

As usual for EFF, it is written in clear, understandable language and is free-to-access and download.

* I’m going to be away up to the mountains for a couple of days, so there won’t be any more posts here until Sunday at the earliest… next week is a slow one here in Japan as it is O-bon, the Buddhist festival of the dead, and many people go back to their family home and offices are generally closed for some or all of the week. I won’t be doing much in the way of interviewing, but I still have quite a few interviews and visits from the last two weeks to write up.