Privacy concerns shouldn’t hinder the rapid deployment of controversial
full-body scanners at American airports, Homeland Security Secretary
Janet Napolitano said Thursday.
“Some have expressed concerns about these [advanced imaging technology] machines — that they infringe upon privacy,” Napolitano told students and faculty at Arizona State University. “But suffice it to say, many of those worries have been spurred by the continued publication of photos that were taken using older versions of the technology, not the technology that’s actually being deployed today.”
Napolitano insisted that her department does take privacy concerns “into account.” The Transportation Security Administration officer reading the image is now separated from the person being scanned, Napolitano said. “And I can confirm, no, the [scanning] machines do not see everything.”
She said the machines would be able to prevent the kind of attack organized on Christmas Day last year, when a Nigerian man wearing explosives in his underwear was able to board a Detroit-bound flight in Amsterdam.
The scanning machines "are an objective improvement in our ability to detect the kind of explosive used in the Christmas Day attack as well as other dangerous powders, liquids and gels that would not set off a metal detector,” she said. “And that is why we are accelerating their deployment to our domestic airports.”
Napolitano acknowledged that intruding on air travelers’ privacy could be interpreted as a propaganda victory for terrorists. Still, she said, preventing another attack was the highest priority.
“We know that in times of war it’s been commonplace for the rights of Americans to be limited,” she said, noting history has harshly judged such measures. “But in a time of new and changing threats, we have to revise our traditional paradigms of how we think about rights and security.”
Liberty and security are not “opposing values,” she said. “You can not live freely if you live in fear."
ASU President Michael Crow introduced Napolitano, who was speaking as part of an annual lecture series, as an “architect of social change.”
A small group protested outside the theater where Napolitano gave her address. They were speaking out against workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security.