Thursday, October 07, 2010

Homeland Security to roll out roving X-ray vans

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Z Backscatter Van (ZBV)
Z Backscatter Van (ZBV)

The US government just can’t get enough of you. Apparently feeling that (warrantless) wiretaps, Internet surveillance and security cameras creeping in [PDF, 1.34 MB] around major cities aren’t enough to safely monitor the population in its everyday activity, Homeland Security is now introducing mobile X-ray vans, originally intended for war zones, to roam the streets and scan vehicles in yet another brilliant “counter-terrorist measure” that couldn’t possibly lead to egregious abuses of privacy in any way. As Internetbits reports:

The U.S. Homeland Security Department has introduced mobile X-ray vans, known as Z Backscatter Vans (ZBVs), as a counter-terrorist measure. American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, makes the vans and Forbes Magazine reported that the company sold in excess of 500 ZBVs to U.S. and other governments.

A company representative told Forbes Magazine that while most of the vans bought by the U.S. government were intended for use in war zones, some have been used inside the U.S.

In the course of a random “counterterrorism operation” last Tuesday, a ZBV was used by Department of Homeland Security teams on vehicles near Atlanta, GA.

Z Backscatter X-ray devices bounce focused X-ray streams off objects. The scatter rate of returning X-rays is then analyzed to help to detect possible bombs or contraband in the X-rayed objects.

Granted, mobile X-ray vans don’t sound like such an intimate invasion of privacy as phone and email wiretaps or surveillance of your online activities, at least not for those who don’t keep boxes of sex toys in their car trunks or some such. But the idea that anti-terrorist agencies are now preparing to have roving scanners peer into the insides of people’s cars remains a discomforting one. Really, my objection to something like this isn’t based on specific complaints but an overall feeling of “is this really necessary?”. It simply isn’t, unless the US has somehow turned into a breeding ground for anti-American terrorists in the past few years. (Wait … that’s what those terror babies are for, isn’t it?)

(via The Daily Grail)