Do you feel that your privacy is invaded when you go through security at the airport? Just wait a little while. Soon, those TSA inspectors may be able to see what you look like naked.
Devices using something called "backscatter technology" are able to see what we look like underneath our clothes. They were planning on testing this new technology at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport around Christmas, but postponed it because of "technical difficulties." They also felt that Christmas wouldn't be the ideal time of year to introduce people to their Peeping Tom technology.
These $100,000 machines use X-rays to look under clothing for hidden items. Customs agents looking for drugs at 12 airports are already using them, they are in prisons, and they're getting a test run at London's Heathrow Airport. By the way, our government says we shouldn't worry about those X-rays. That reassurance should be good enough for us, right?
Surprise, surprise, the ACLU feels that this is an invasion of privacy. It's hard to argue that it's not. What could be more private than our "privates?" The only question is whether the potential danger outweighs the potential peeking at our naked bodies. It's like the ban on bottles of liquids. We may wish that the passenger next to us had been allowed to take his bottle of mouthwash with him on the flight, but we've been told that carrying liquids on a plane is a potential danger, so we just hold our noses.
The Transportation Security Administration claims that their computerized voyeur can be tweaked so that passengers' private parts can be blurred out. But that doesn't make any sense. If the bad guys know what parts of their bodies are going to be obscured, won't they just hide their contraband in those areas?
Once the system is in use, the TSA will have no problem finding people who want to join their ranks. A machine that can see through people's clothes is a teenager's dream come true. We're going to see long lines of kids going directly from their high school graduation to the TSA employment office.
Physical fitness is another potential that I see here. Men and women will want to get in the best shape possible before flying, just like before the Bathing Suit Season.
Currently, the plan is for these devices to be used only on passengers who "fail" the standard screening process. They will be taken to the X-ray area, and they will be given a choice between the backscatter machine and the more traditional pat-down search. But let's face it: if this thing is really more effective in detecting bombs and other threatening devices, don't you think there's a good chance the TSA will be using it on everybody before long?
It's just one more step in the government's plan — a plan that will culminate in requiring that we all fly in the nude.
I know it may sound like a reach at first, but think about it. Isn't it obvious that they have been gradually preparing us for flying naked by desensitizing us? Their technique reminds me of strip poker. Or dating. In those activities, articles of clothing like a jacket or shoes are innocently removed at first, and then before you know it, everybody's naked.
Similarly, the TSA has gotten us used to removing our shoes, our jackets, belts, jewelry, etc. If security procedures continue to escalate as they have been doing, it shouldn't be long before we're all required to fly in the nude. And if we're told that this is for our safety and for the security of our country, we'll go along with it. (I don't even want to think about where they're going to ask us to carry our boarding passes.)
We won't get used to it immediately, but who would've ever guessed ten years ago that we would have gotten used to the current security measures? At first, passengers will probably use their tray tables and blankets to cover their shyness. But after a while, people will stop feeling self-conscious.
And I have the feeling the government will do its best to convince us that not only is flying naked the safest way for us to travel, but that it will be fun, too. It's bound to result in some flirtations and romances, so the TSA will promote the program as giving a whole new meaning to flying "the friendly skies."
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them while flying.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2007 CBS. All rights reserved.