Roving Government Scanners Now Can See You Virtually Naked Inside Your Car

A blog about politics, sports, media, stuff
Aug. 27 2010 2:29 PM

Roving Government Scanners Now Can See You Virtually Naked Inside Your Car

Remember how privacy experts were concerned because new backscatter X-ray scanners could see through people's clothing at airport checkpoints? Forbes' Andy Greenberg reported this week that the intrusive-scanning industry has already moved on to much, much bigger things :

American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview. While the biggest buyer of AS&E’s machines over the last seven years has been the Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Reiss says law enforcement agencies have also deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs in the U.S.

Advertisement

The company says that while these images, like the airport ones, can penetrate clothing, the results are too low-resolution for people to be embarrassed about. Besides, the people operating the trucks are too busy taking inventory of the entire private contents of your car to spend time studying your genitals.

Are they lying about the resolution of the scans, the same way the Transportation Security Administration lied about the airport scanners' ability to record and transmit images ? It hardly seems worth worrying about, given that the entire premise of the vans is flagrantly, indisputably illegal .

The promotional video from American Science & Engineering shows the anonymous white vans cruising down American streets, scanning cars as they pass them. At one point, the scanner appears to be peering through the walls of some sort of prefab building or trailer.

Again, this is completely, categorically unconstitutional. The video—which is so guilelessly dystopian it feels like a hoax, like one of the prescient TV commercials from Robocop —touts the ability of the scanner vans to find explosives and other contraband. If American law-enforcement agencies are really interested in intercepting unlawful vehicle-borne threats, they should start by impounding the contents of their own vans.

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 17 2014 11:48 PM Spanking Is Great for Sex Which is why it’s grotesque for parenting.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?