Column Date 2006-04-09

What would Superman do?

At London’s Heathrow airport they’re using a new kind of X-ray machine that can literally see through a passenger’s clothing. This is no joke: it’s the latest weapon in the fight against terrorism.

Now security screeners at Heathrow can sit there, munching their fish and chips, and gaze at a detailed picture of you as if you were totally naked. According to privacy advocates, this new technology allows images of “nipples, and a clear outline of the genitals.”

And it’s not just the British. Government officials around the world, in their infinite wisdom, are entrusting this X-ray vision to thousands of underpaid airport security screeners. This incredible X-ray power, previously reserved for Superman, will soon be in the hands of those wonderful folks at Homeland Security who recently told me my iPod headphones might be a weapon.

Why this sudden desire to see passengers stark naked?

Well, here in the good, old U.S.A., federal airport screeners apparently did such a poor job of finding weapons on undercover agents, they needed to try a new approach. And stripping us all naked was, for some reason, #1 on their priority list.

So, will these “naked X-rays” protect us from terrorists and make us safer? Not exactly.

It seems that these new X-rays can see through clothing, but they don’t go through skin. So it is conceivable that a very fat terrorist could hide a weapon beneath the folds of flab on his body, and escape detection completely! (No, I didn’t make this up – it’s simply the way these new X-ray machines work.)

Now, in a country like ours, where 1/3 of the population is clinically obese, let me suggest that this is a very large loophole in airport security.

But the powers-that-be are also testing other devices, among them a large, phone-booth size contraption that blows jets of air at passengers.

Microscopic particles, blown off your clothing and body, are then detected by special sensors to sniff out any traces of explosives. The machine can also, by the way, test for sixty different types of drug residue.

All of which means that you had better not hang out in certain night clubs before flying. Or brush up against strangers in the check-in line. Or hug a friend goodbye before getting on your plane. No telling whose microscopic particles might wind up on your clothing.

But back to those naked X-rays, which are already being used at some of our airports (they won’t tell us which ones).

What would Superman do?

First of all, we know that, along with his superpowers, he had ‘super-self-control’ and an unimpeachable sense of morality. You know that he would never, ever use his X-ray vision to look at naked people through their clothes. He’s a good guy.

In fact, I am convinced that Superman would quickly put an end to this “Big Brother is Watching Your Naked Body” intrusiveness right now.

Because, above all, Superman valued his privacy. Even if it was only in a phone booth.

©2006 Peter Tannen