Thursday, December 09, 2010

Rapiscan systems - the Other Corruption

Usually when we say a politician is corrupt, we think about money exchanging hands. Not a lot of thought goes to other forms of corruption - such as power-brokering or abuse of power.
The central government in India is enormously powerful - the simple edicts that bureaucrats pass from their desks actually have consequences.
When we suffer a major erosion in our rights, it is fair to question the motivation of those powerful people in the center.
One such step is coming our way - in the form of the Full Body scanning machines, the Secure 1000 created by Rapiscan Systems.

The news story in Economic Times is here.

The article takes a kind of positive line with the "Indian-born" Deepak Chopra, owner of Rapiscan Systems. Economic Times is usually deferential to big corporations.

But what the article is really saying is that the Indian government is all set to unveil full body scanners in Indian airports. There has not been any debate or news about this (except for the fawning coverage of ET).
In a country that is now seeing major abuses of power by government officials, the LAST thing we need is airport officials videotaping passengers' "near-naked" walk-throughs and publishing it in the internet or threatening passengers with such images.

A few passages from an informative commentary on the "Secure 1000" scanner from Rapiscan:

Scientists from the University of California have publicly challenged the safety of the devices. The U.S. Airline Pilots Association, warns the TSA that they have offered no credible specifications for the radiation emitted by these machines. The USAPA has determined that frequent exposure to TSA-operated scanner devices may subject pilots to significant health risks. The long term health effects of these technologies remains unknown.

However, The Food and Drug Administration has responded to concerns by announcing that the potential health risks from the Naked Body Scanners are "minuscule."
A Matter of Privacy

A full naked body image is produced by the Backscatter x-ray producing virtual strip searches without probable cause which opponents claim are illegal and violate basic human rights, arguing that the scans are a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano ensured passenger privacy and affirms that the images are permanently deleted immediately once viewed and are never stored, transmitted or printed. However, TSA officials admitted that the scanners are required to be capable of saving images for the purpose of evaluation, training and testing. Concern over the possibility of leaked images was further stressed when leaked photos documented by were made public on their site. The images were from a Florida courthouse scanner that may have illegally saved 35,000 images.

So, the Indian government, which faces no comparable threat as the USA; whose officials and elected leaders are abusers of power; is now contemplating getting a machine that will show naked anyone who tries to fly.

I have a sneaking suspicion that this purchase (and the resulting windfall for Rapiscan) happens not just because of the absolute need for it; but because someone up there has been perfectly lobbied by Rapiscan. It is one of our "industry-friendly" masters who has taken this awful decision.

As I said, there is corruption and then there are power abuses. Installing full body scanners in airports is a complete power abuse by the Indian government.