Airport body scanners: invading your personal space & the terminal space

I spent much of the day yesterday writing a column for MSNBC.com about the pros and cons of airport body scanners.

That column, which posts Thursday, January 14th, 2010, focuses on some of the privacy issues surrounding the “virtual strip search” aspect of these machines.

I didn’t have room for in the story for the comments of airport terminal planner and designer, Pat Askew, from Perkins+Will.

We don’t think of it right away, but Askew points out that these big, expensive body scanner machines will not only change the TSA procedures, but also have an impact on the look and layout of present – and future – airport terminals.

Askew says:

  • Body scanning machines take more space, especially width-wise, than do the current magnetometers (or walk-through metal detectors).  It’s already hard to find space in existing terminals for all the necessary equipment they needs to be there;
  • Processing rates are greater with body scanners than with metal detectors. This means longer lines, more machines – and more required space;
  • Explosive detection devices for carry-ons will soon be required. This equipment will be smaller, but similar to the technology currently used for checked luggage. It will replace the current x-ray machines used to examine carry-ons and operate in much the same way, but may be larger and slower….and need more space.

So next time you’re Stuck at the Airport, take a good look around. That great piece of public art in the terminal may soon need to make way for a hulking piece of security equipment.

Using math to catch a terrorist

A few weeks back my Well-Mannered Traveler column on MSNBC.com was about ethnic profiling at airports.

A great many people (328 last time I checked)  posted comments in response to that column and most of those folks seem to believe that ethnic profiling is a good and useful way to thwart terrorism.

But according to this article in today’s (Feb 2nd)  New York Times, it’s not.

What would work better?  Math.

Specifically, says William H. Press, a computational biologist and computer scientist at the University of Texas, Austin, something called “square root sampling.”

“We have been told that strong profiling will somehow find and siphon off the worst offenders and we’ll be safe,” Dr. Press said. “It’s not true. The math does not support that.”

See what the math does support in Sandra Blakeslee’s New York Times article:  Math Backs Limited Profiling in Airport Screening and tell me what you think.