Mobile X-ray vans hit US streets

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Backscattervan For many living in a terror-spooked country, it might seem like a great government innovation: Use vans equipped with mobile X-ray units to scan vehicles at major sporting events, or even randomly, for bombs or contraband.

But news that the US is buying custom-made vans packed with something called backscatter X-ray capacity has riled privacy advocates and sparked internet worries about "feds radiating Americans."

“This really trips up the creep factor because it's one of those things that you sort of intrinsically think the government shouldn't be doing,” says Vermont-based privacy expert Frederick Lane, author of 'American Privacy.' “But, legally, the issue is the boundary between the government's legitimate security interest and privacy expectations we enjoy in our cars.”

In September 2010 a counter-terror operation snarled truck traffic on I-20 near Atlanta, where Department of Homeland Security teams used mobile X-ray technology to check the contents of truck trailers. Authorities said the inspections weren't prompted by any specific threat.

The mobile X-ray technology works by bouncing narrow X-ray streams off an object like a car and then analyzing the scatter rate of the returning rays. Operators can then locate less-dense objects that could be bodies or bombs.

Backscatter X-ray is already part of an ongoing national debate about its use in so-called full body scanners being deployed in many US airports. In that case, US officials have said they will not store or share the images and will use masking technology to avoid revealing details of the human body. Nevertheless, information security advocates have filed suit to stop their deployment, citing concerns about privacy.

Security experts say expanding the X-ray technology for use on American streets is a powerful counter-terror strategy. They also point out the images do not not offer the kind of detail that would be embarrassing to anyone. Moreover, law enforcement already has broad search-and-seizure powers on public highways, where a search warrant is often not needed for officers to instigate a physical search.

But others worry that radiating Americans without their knowledge is evidence of gradually eroding constitutional protections in the post-9/11 age.

But if you think that backscatter X-ray, aka backscatter radar, used in mobile units is bad consider the ideas, probably no longer ideas but being implemented without our knowledge, is the use of the same stuff in street furniture, as in the UK.

The talk has been that backscatter radar would be put into lamppost, roadside benches, litter bins, etc. to look for guns, knives, etc. being carried by people for the “just in case” those people might be intending to murder someone.

Now there are devices being put into city and town centers that can detect and triangulate gun shots – a technology that has been used in Iraq – and this all reall shows how bad things are getting.

In addition to that we have had, in Britain, an incident where a 12-year-old schoolboy was taken out of class and – basically – arrested and questioned by anti-terrorist police units because of him and friends talking on Facebook about wanting to demonstrate against the closure of a youth center in their neighborhood.

What route are we taking? The way it would appear one that is quickly leading us into a total and utter police state, here in the UK and also, it would appear, in the USA and other countries.

In Germany members of the government demand that the army, and especially the military police (Feldjaeger) be used as additional police force and it would appear that many sporting events in the USA are being policed, contrary to the US Constitution, by forces of the Provost Marshall Service, that is to the the military police.

© 2010