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House moves to limit use of full-body scanners

House moves to limit use of full-body scanners

Dustin Hurst
March 18, 2010
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March 18, 2010

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has some serious concerns about the use of whole-body imaging machines, which are becoming more common in airports and government building.  Thursday, lawmakers approved Hart'sbill to restrict use of the machines in Idaho.

Under Hart’s plan, security personnel in airports, or other public facilities, would be prohibited from using the scanners as a primary means for ensuring the safety of a respective facility.  The bill says that screeners must first use an alternative method of screening, such as a metal detector, as the primary inspection method.  Only if a person is deemed a potential threat by security personnel after using a primary screening method may a whole-body scan be required.  Even if security personnel proscribe a whole-body image of a particular person, that person would be enabled, by the legislation, to request a less-invasive pat-down search.  If the person chooses a whole-body scan, security personnel would be required to inform that person of the potential health risks associated with the use of the scanner.

Hart said that in his research and talking to professionals about the machines, he has been told that the machines irradiate people to the level which equals that person spending one full day in the sun.  Hart said the science isn’t conclusive because long-term testing of the machines has yet to be done. Because of the radiation used to produce images, Hart is concerned that those who travel often would be adversely affected more than average Americans who travel only a few times each year.  Under directives of Hart’s plan, the head of Homeland Security in Idaho would need to certify the safety of the machines prior to installation and use in public facilities in the state.

Provisions in the bill prohibit the storage and transfer of the images produced by the scanners.  Hart said that the images produced are 360 degree x-ray images in which the person being scanned is basically naked and he wants to prevent those images from becoming public.

Hart admitted that if his legislation is passed, it could still have some loose ends and could lead to a jurisdictional dispute with the federal government.  According to Hart, the state of Idaho owns the land underneath the Boise Airport, as well as the land for federal buildings in the state.  Though under Hart’s bill the state wouldn’t have complete power to regulate the use of the machines, it would, at best, give the state “concurrent jurisdiction” with the federal government.  The federal government, by way of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, typically has authority to regulate travel safety initiatives, though Hart says that authority could be trumped by the state if the machines are found to be a health risk.  Hart indicated that the state could use “police power” to regulate the machine’s usage if they are found to be harmful to humans.

Several interest groups supported the measure, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Gun Owners of American, two groups which usually don’t agree on much in the way of politics.  Hart said that groups from the left, right, and center of the ideological spectrum lined up to oppose the machines because of the invasion of privacy they represent.

Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, was the only House member to argue against the measure.  Durst said he feels that because the federal government cleared the machines for usage, they are safe for use in the state.  He also told lawmakers that, in his opinion, protecting citizens through enhanced security measures trumps concerns over privacy.

"I appreciate the need for privacy," said Durst, before adding that he feels that machines are "an appropriate use of government" in preventing future terrorist attacks.

A fellow House Democrat, Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, rose in support of Hart's legislation.  Ringo said that the "natural response" of many in the wake of the 9-11 terrorist attacks was to give up some personal privacies and freedoms in exchange for security provided by the government.  Ringo urged lawmakers to remember that those who fought for our country did so in the name of personal freedom and liberty.

Ringo was joined in her sentiments by Rep. Russ Matthews, R-Idaho Falls.  Matthews told lawmakers that he would like to "err on the side of freedom" in dealing with matters of security and privacy, and that Hart's bill is a step in the right direction.

"Let us not allow the fed government to pillage our freedom in the name of security," said Matthews.

Legislators passed the bill on a 58-9.   It now heads to the Senate for deliberation.

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