Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 84° Today's Paper

Lee Cataluna

Airport body scans bring everyone closer

Kauai’s Lihue Airport is generally a friendly place—much too friendly to be the first in the state to institute full-body security scans for travelers.

It’s one thing to get scanned by an anonymous TSA worker in a big airport like LAX or Dallas/Fort Worth. Who cares if they laugh at your love handles or your puka underwear? You’ll never see them again.

But in small towns like Lihue where everybody knows your name and knows your business, what you look like under your muumuu and Spanx isn’t something you want Cousin Darleen’s youngest boy to be watching on the screen.

If you’ve lived in Hawaii for any length of time, you probably have friends on Kauai who work at the airport. These days, working for TSA is the best gig around on the Garden Island. I haven’t lived on Kauai in almost 20 years and I still know half the screeners at the Lihue airport. My old boss, two cousins, my friend’s dad, the guy who used to work security at the mall—the kind of people you’re happy to see but don’t want seeing you. At least not like that.

The TSA website tries to reassure wary travelers by pointing out that the body scans are optional. Instead, you can choose going through a metal detector and getting "patted down" by a security officer, which is a different kind of humiliation. The examples the site shows of two kinds of body scans aren’t very reassuring. On the millimeter wave technology example, you can see contours of a lady’s body that would never be shown in the Sears catalog underwear section. In the backscatter technology example, the man’s manliness is even more plain to see. But, they want you to know, the faces are blurred out; as if that makes it OK for them to see your da kine.

"… the officer who assists the passenger never sees the image the technology produces. The officer who views the image is remotely located in a secure resolution room and never sees the passenger. The two officers communicate via wireless headset."

Yes, but what’s to stop the officer standing with you at the scanner from using a code with the officer looking at the screen in a remote area that means, "Try snap a picture of this one, Barry. I went school with her and I like see."

The system doesn’t have a way to store or save images, but that’s an easy work-around for anyone with a smart phone. Not to cast aspersions, particularly on somebody’s cousin’s kid who works security at the airport, but TSA nationwide has had its share of scandals since its inception, and sexual harassment is just one line on the list of reported shenanigans.

Privacy has an element of anonymity. It’s easier to cope with embarrassment when you don’t have to save face for people who know you. Much aloha to da ohana at Lihue Airport, ’cause dey da bess, but there’s not much anonymity when everybody knows everybody.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at lcataluna@staradvertiser.com.


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