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MONDAY, FEBRUARY 26, 2007
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EDITORIAL

Smile and feel safe: Big Brother sees all

We are about to see — well, maybe “learn” would be a more discreet word — how committed Americans are to homeland security.

At Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, the federal Transportation Security Administration is trying out new machinery that X-rays passengers’ bodies, seeing through their clothes. It’s like an electronic strip search, except that the equipment has been adjusted to make it less than totally revealing.

However, “the more obscure they make the image, the more obscure the contraband, weapons and explosives,” says Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. “... You shouldn’t have to be strip-searched to get on an airplane.”

Not every passenger will be X-rayed. Those who fail the standard screening will have a choice between the new device and a pat-down search. So it’s not a forced intrusion, but it comes close enough to underscore the tension between privacy rights and security.

Americans were already debating whether the government ought to be able to listen in on electronic communications without a warrant from a court. But this airport Peeping Tom puts some flesh on the debate.

How much liberty are we willing to give up in order to be more “secure”? And how far do we trust Uncle Sam with our personal secrets?

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