Sunday, December 03, 2006

Virtual Strip Search

ARCHy types will know that we've had past dealings with the Metropolitan Police and the DfT about the use of 'virtual strip-search' scanners on children.

A couple of weeks ago, Spyblog reported that Canary Wharf was introducing a new 'see through your clothes' terahertz scanner system, and so we contacted their security to remind them of the law in relation to indecent images of children.

We've had a reply offering us:
"...complete assurance that the system we have is not capable of producing any indecent images of children or indeed adults. The scanning system does not reveal anatomical details. This particular system was, in part, deliberately procured rather than, for example, the backscatter or millimetre wave systems to which you refer because of this feature."
If anyone has more information (and/or images) about this sytem, we'd be grateful for it.


At Tuesday, December 05, 2006 12:37:00 AM, Anonymous Not Saussure said...

A quick search of Google Images took me to this page (the image is towards the end of the article). Searching for it using the colloquial term, 'backscatter', took me here, which seems pretty detailed.

A lot, I suppose, must depend on the resolution at which the device is set.

At Tuesday, December 05, 2006 10:00:00 AM, Blogger archrights said...

The backscatter and PMW scanner images can be very detailed -it's surprising that there haven't been more vociferous objections. At least U-18s have some protection because the images are almost certainly indecent.

We've been told that the terahertz scanners are different because they 'ignore'anatomical detail - see eg
but others have expressed scepticism. We need hard evidence, though.

At Tuesday, December 05, 2006 4:39:00 PM, Anonymous Not Saussure said...

I'm not at all sure that under 18s are protected. Section 1b of the Protection of Children Act 1978 provides a defence that

it was necessary for him to make the photograph or pseudo-photograph for the purposes of the prevention, detection or investigation of crime, or for the purposes of criminal proceedings, in any part of the world

Obviously keeping or distributing the image for any purposes other than legitimate ones would be an offence, but I don't think a prosecution for using these as part of (e.g.) airport security would run.

I'd have thought, though it's not subject I know a great deal about, that it would be better to argue taking such intimate images of anyone infringes their ECHR right to privacy and is disproportionate to the public good (prevention of crime and acts of terrorism) it seeks to advance.

At Tuesday, December 05, 2006 11:56:00 PM, Blogger archrights said...

That was something we were initially concerned about, but the advice we obtained was that 'prevention, detection or investigation' would have to refer to a specific situation and couldn't be used to justify a general trawl.

Given the length of time that elapsed between our initial letters to the Met and the DfT and their eventual assurances, I would imagine that they sought advice and were told something similar.

I agree it would be ripe for an Art 8 challenge. In fact, if I ever win the lottery, I'll establish a fund for just that kind of purpose!

At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 2:15:00 AM, Anonymous Not Saussure said...

Encouraging advice, though I'm still a bit dubious. In practical terms, wouldn't someone still have to pursuade the CPS that it's in the public interest to prosecute airport security staff for doing something the Home Secretary doubtless assures his colleague the Attorney General is a valuable contribution to the war on terror, drugs or whatever we're fighting at any given moment?

At Wednesday, December 06, 2006 9:27:00 AM, Blogger archrights said...

Sure, it's likely that there would be resistance to mounting a prosecution. Looking at it the other way around, though: any offence would be committed by the person making the image -ie the employee operating the machinery. Unless it were guaranteed that s/he would never face prosecution, it would be monstrous of an employer to leave him/her open to a potential charge of a sexual offence.

At Saturday, December 09, 2006 12:12:00 AM, Anonymous Not Saussure said...

Bruce Schneier today has a brief piece on backscatter scanning, together with a link to a previous article he did.

Interesting discussion in the comments, particularly this one, which contrasts the very toned-down images released by the TSA site with more detailed ones that have previously been published (e.g. this one).


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