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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


New Airport Security Devices May Put Transpeople at Risk

Action Alert from TLPI and GEA

airport security
(Photo Courtesy of Federal Aviation Administration.)
[ORLANDO, FL] -Several new detection devices were deployed in Orlando International Airport Friday, March 15, 2002. These prototype machines will be tested here to determine whether similar machines should be deployed nationwide. These machines may potentially expose cross-dressing or cross-living individuals to public challenge, humiliation, detainment, not to mention flight delays! Transpeople should be aware of these machines, and may want to oppose their deployment on the grounds that they pose a violation of privacy. Information on how to register opposition is given below.

High Tech Machines

The types of new machines include two for baggage:
  1. A device that uses low level radio waves to scan for explosives residue.
  2. The InVision CTX5500, a coherent scatter x-ray device that creates a 3-D image of a bag's contents.
Three new devices have been developed for scanning people:
  1. The Rapiscan Secure 1000 body scanner uses low-level x-rays that penetrate clothing and a special camera to create a computer image of metal objects in their exact locations on a passenger's body.
  2. The Beringer Ion Scan 400B, a walk through device that uses blasts of air and a vacuum to loosen, apprehend, and analyze particles around a person's body, seeking traces of 40 types of explosive and other hazardous material residue. It can also be programmed to test for 60 different types of drugs.
  3. The Entry Scan 3 made by Ion Track Instruments, a trace portal explosives detector, that functions like the Beringer Ion Scan device above.
In particular, the Rapiscan Secure 1000 shows airport security personnel a realtime image of your naked body. If you are, for example, an FTM who is binding, they will see your breasts; if you are packing, they will see your prosthesis. Security personnel are viewing scans of same sex passengers, that is if you are presenting as male, and you are asked or volunteer to go through one of these scanners, a male security person will be viewing your scanned image. It is unlikely that these people will be trained in handling transgendered or transsexual passengers with sensitivity or respect.

Once these new machines are placed in service nationwide, the current zonal metal detection devices are likely to remain in service for initial screening. The new enhanced systems will likely be used as alternatives to the wand and pat-down searches when a scan reveals a person to have any anomalous object in his or her possession. A "profile of suspicious character" may be computer-generated at any point in the ticket purchase or passenger registration process and coded on the boarding pass so that security personnel are on alert when the passenger enters the security scan area.

How Much is Too Much?

xray image X-ray technology reveals a plastic Glock 17 automatic pistol and concealed plastic explosives. (Photo Courtesy of American Science and Engineering Inc.)
According to CBS News, only passengers who volunteer will go through the Orlando checkpoint while the systems are being tested.

CBS News stated: "One system, the Rapiscan Secure 1000, uses low-energy X-rays to search a person through clothing. When Rapiscan project manager Bryan Allman scanned himself, a plastic knife hidden in his shirt pocket was detected.

However, the outline of his body - every inch of it - also was clearly visible. Mindful of the machine's revealing nature, airport officials refused to put a woman in the scanner.

Security officials said the scanner would only be used when a passenger shows an "anomaly." Also, the security worker examining the scan would be the same sex as the person being searched.

Constitutionality Questioned

The potential for complaints about the invasiveness of the search didn't seem to bother Allman.

"Everybody has to learn that the world has changed since Sept. 11, and the world needs a much more thorough type of screening," Allman said.

But the American Civil Liberties Union says the scan is too intrusive.

"This, of course, is a virtual strip-search," ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt said. "There's no question this has tremendous potential for embarrassment."

Steinhardt pointed out there have been incidents across the nation where male security workers harassed female passengers during hands-on searches.

"We fear this is going to be indiscriminately used," Steinhardt said. "We know that even less-invasive searches are being abused at airports." (End of CBS News report excerpt.)

Airlines affected at present are Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Swissair, and British Airways flying in and out of Orlando International Airport.

There are alternative technologies available that will provide the same level of security without compromising personal privacy, for example infra-red systems that use thermal imaging of the body which is medically safer for people with pacemakers or other implanted bionic or biometric medical devices. If the proposed technology is used, it is also possible to alter the holographic image of the body to resemble a stick figure or a mannequin, thus leaving the personal characteristics of an individual hidden while still revealing weapons. This should be an enforced minimum standard to prevent unnecessary invasion of privacy.

Call to Action

Readers are advised to write or call their congressional representatives via the capital switchboard (just tell the receptionist what city you live in and your call will be routed appropriately) or use http://thomas.loc.gov to identify your representative and link to their email.

Tell your representative that you are 100% behind the country's need to ensure airline safety, and you are also 100% behind protecting constitutional rights to privacy. Urge him or her to advocate for the implementation of security systems that are less invasive and do not subject people to unnecessary invasion of privacy, potential embarassment and public humiliation, and unforeseen medical risks to those wearing or having implanted devices, the operation of which may be compromised by subjection to the scanning waves.

Meanwhile, to avoid potential conflicts with airport security, cross-dressers should travel in the gender presentation that matches their legal identification. Pre-op transsexual people who are cross-living should carry a letter from a therapist or physician that explicitly states they are required to present in the target designated gender as a precursor to or as part of the process of medical treatment that will actualize the true gender. The letter should state that the true gender is that of the gender presentation, irrespective of anatomic condition, and that this document is a medical affidavit.

Report Harassment

If transgendered or transsexual people are detained or harassed in airport security procedures, please contact the Transgender Law and Policy Institute (TLPI) to report the incident so that we can track these occurrences. TLPI may be reached at .

Learn more about the characteristics that will generate a computerized "enhanced surveillance profile." If you have not traveled on airplanes since September 11, 2001, you might want to check this site out to help you prepare for your next airport visit.

Related Resources:

Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc.
Transgender Law and Policy Institute

External Sites:

Mar 15, 2002 - ACLU Calls for Removal of Controversial See-Through Scanner in Orlando

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