posted by Thom Holwerda on Tue 16th Nov 2010 22:34 UTC
IconAs none other I know how problematic it is to discuss matters related to politics on the web. However, every now and then, there's no way around it, and this is one of those moments. There's this thing going on at airports in the US, and while many will see it as a separate issue, the body scanner issue, and the sad stories it has spawned, are symptoms of a far larger problem that is a direct threat to everything we've fought for during and since the Enlightenment.

A bit of background. Last Christmas, someone tried to blow up a plane, and as a direct result, airport security in the US was tightened quite heavily. Controversial full body scanners, which create naked images of passengers, were installed at airports all over the US. This has created a bit of a backlash.

Of course, there's the concern over the government storing the naked photos - valid concerns, as Gizmodo has found out. There's also a considerable amount of concern regarding health issues for passengers using the naked scanners on a more regular basis. So much so, in fact, that unions for pilots are all advising their members against going through the scanners, advising them to opt for the pat-down search method by Transportation Security Administration employees.

Said pat-down, which travellers can opt for, has been tightened, so that TSA employees must search your groin area as well. When you as a travellers refuse to be sexually violated - which is exactly what this is - you're slapped with civil lawsuits and 10000 dollar fines. Then there's the video material of how TSA employees handle 3 year old children who need to be groped.

The issue is of course that both the naked scanners as well as the groin-groping constitute serious privacy and Fourth Amendment violations, and the resistance among the US public is growing - and rightly so. I'm not going to quote Benjamin Franklin once again, but I do know that the good man would be appalled to see these things taking place in the country he helped form.

Five paragraphs in, and I still haven't explained why this news is on OSNews. Well, for that, we have to dive into a different aspect of this story. Whenever a political decision is made - a decision that seems contradictory to the will of the people, at least - you usually only have to follow the money to find out the real motivations behind said decision. In this particular case, the money trail is so clearly visible it's laughable.

The Washington Examiner did the money-following in this particular case, and what seems as business as usual in the US, it can all be traced back to lobby groups. Safety is but a secondary concern for those promoting the scanners. The Examiner details how there are all but three companies making these scanners, and all of them have powerful lobby groups with important political connections, with important politicians within their ranks.

In other words, what we're seeing is that these invasive scanners, of which it is unclear if they would've even detected the Christmas Bomber in the first place, and the groin-groping alternative, are not the result of careful risk analysis by experts, but are in fact the result of lobbyists.

The reason I'm writing about this on OSNews is that all this shows the power these lobby groups have in the US. Remember another powerful lobby group? Exactly - big content is incredibly well-connected in the US political system, as evidenced by Joe Biden's vice-presidency and the fact that Obama shifted from a pro-copyright reform position to an anti-reform position. And here's the danger.

The big content lobby is actively pursuing monitoring software on all computers and devices, software which scans storage devices for possibly infringing digital content. They also want mandatory device checks at the border, so that you have to hand over your laptop and smartphone so customs can check their contents for possibly infringing content. Basically, the digital equivalent of the naked scanners.

My fear - a well-founded fear, I'd say - is that big content will be able to push these things through just as the naked scanners have been pushed through. You may think you're in the clear because you don't live in the US - I don't either - but don't be so quick; the US has a considerable amount of leverage over other countries in the world (through sanctions and trade blocks and the like), meaning that they will easily force other, smaller countries to adopt said measures as well. Just look at ACTA.

The question we have to ask ourselves is just how much of our freedom and privacy we're willing to give up for what most likely won't do a damn thing to increase our security. The fact that the TSA is going after the person who refused to be groin groped shows how these government organisations truly think: "Don't submit to the police state, and we'll come after you."

And if you think this is a US-only thing, you're deluding yourself.

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