Once again it appears that airports are a test bed for nearly everything that will eventually trickle out into the general public. Whether it’s TSA VIPR teams on trains, or the emergence of biometric ID, the continuous reinforcement of an imminent and pervasive threat has people scrambling to give up their freedom for their ever-elusive security.
Although airport body scanners have been much maligned for their negative health effects from millimeter wave technology, as well as their thoroughly intimate invasion of privacy, it’s not stopping Los Angeles from rolling out a pilot program of the $60,000-per-unit scanners which began on Wednesday. Subway officials aim to process up to 600 people per hour in the (currently) voluntary screening:
The machines use sensors to scan a person as they walk through, searching for firearms and explosive compounds, said Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesman. Passengers don’t need to unload laptops or take off their jackets or shoes as the radio waves scan them to detect anomalies.
“It is specifically designed to test for mass-casualty threats,” Sotero said. “The technology enables the system to locate on the body where there is a potential threat, and it appears on a video screen.”
Metro is conducting the pilot program to evaluate the accuracy and capacity of the portable machines and determine if the scanners could become permanent fixtures in the Los Angeles transit system.
This is actually a program that has been ramping up behind the scenes for quite a while. The company supplying the scanners, Evolv, made news nearly one year ago when it was revealed that Bill Gates was funding their start-up into the scanner space.
As the Guardian reported at the time, it was not only LA that was being zeroed in on, there are other locations where we can expect a possible roll-out.
A startup bankrolled by Bill Gates is about to conduct the first public trials of high-speed body scanners powered by artificial intelligence (AI), the Guardian can reveal.
According to documents filed with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Boston-based Evolv Technology is planning to test its system at Union Station in Washington DC, in Los Angeles’s Union Station metro and at Denver international airport.
Evolv uses the same millimetre-wave radio frequencies as the controversial, and painfully slow, body scanners now found at many airport security checkpoints. However, the new device can complete its scan in a fraction of second, using computer vision and machine learning to spot guns and bombs.
It is the speed of the system which is being touted as its greatest asset and, if true, will likely lead to widespread roll-out across transporation and other venues. Whereas people are accustomed to hours of travel time surrounding their airline visit; trains, buses and events need near-instantaneous processing to keep people docile enough to tolerate it.
Yet another bonus, as the Guardian notes, is the potential integration of biometrics which, as previously mentioned, is a trend that is gaining traction with new forms of security programs.
The scanner also has a camera that takes a photo of each person passing through, enabling facial recognition.
Because it promises to be faster and cheaper than existing millimetre-wave scanners, the new device could bring airport-level screening to venues that were previously difficult to secure.
The Guardian goes on to highlight a laundry list of potential issues with the new technology arising from “the chaos of the real world” such as false positives, potential lack of fine tuning for sophisticated weapons, and reverse engineering of scanners by terrorists who would know how to conceal dangerous items.
Now would be the time for the traveling public to draw a line in the sand while public testing is underway and a pushback has a chance of being considered. Certainly the mentality of one traveler who was quoted in the most recent announcement is exactly what technocrats and the security industrial complex are looking for, but certainly should be cringe-worthy for anyone who truly values liberty:
“I think it is a good idea with everything that has been going on and ISIS,” passenger Jazmin Rosales, 29, said. “As long as it doesn’t take too long, at least you know you can feel safe.”
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