While the TSA claims that privacy rights are not violated by the use of full body scanners, many passengers disagree, as do many in the human rights community. A United Nations special rapporteur on the protection of human rights points out that recording details of private parts was an especially egregious human rights violation. In particular it was noted that women, people of certain religions and certain cultural backgrounds would likely find the procedure and the notion of their bodies being recorded to be offensive (Agence France-Press, 2010).
There are two dimensions on which the privacy issue surrounding airport screening procedures can be evaluated. The first is the legal issue. The Privacy Act itself offers little direct guidance with respect to airport screening. The Act's emphasis is more on the control of information that comes from the activities of government agencies than on collection of the information itself. As such, the Privacy Act does not appear to set any definitions or limitations on what information can be collected. The collection of video or image records, for example, is not governed by this Act. The Act does govern the management of these records, however. The TSA would be subject to specific provisions with regards to the maintenance of any record from the full body screening procedure. The agency would be limited with respect to its ability to share the data. Most certainly, the leak of any image files to the public would violate the Privacy Act. This addresses one concern that exists, but does not address the risk of unprofessional behavior on the part of agents, sharing images among themselves or viewing the images beyond the course of duty.
The other dimension along which airport screening can be evaluated in terms of privacy is the ethical dimension. The TSA's viewpoint that full body scans are harmless and any privacy concerns are outweighed by security concerns is a utilitarian perspective. However, this view is not shared by many Americans. For many, the ethics of the scans are dictated by cultural norms. The protection of one's individual privacy is considered to be a strong American value, the result of the cultural emphasis on individualism.
It is this cultural norm by which most Americans determine the ethics of privacy. In many ethical philosophies, it is the cultural norms that define the ethics of an action. Under these philosophies, the outcomes of the action are subordinated to the ethics of the action itself. While the TSA operates on a "greatest good for the greatest number" principle, many Americans do not ascribe to that philosophy. They place individual privacy ahead of the greater good. For those people, airport security techniques, in particular the use of full body scans, represents a gross violation of the cultural norms with respect to personal privacy.
Every country and every airport is fit to set whatever security parameters they wish. Whereas one can reasonably argue that privacy is a right as dictated by the norms of American culture, air travel is not such a right. The decision to fly comes down to individual choice. There is no need to demand consistency in security procedures across all airports, as each airport and each transportation administration uses security techniques to meet its own unique set of objectives. If an airport chooses to violate privacy, then the airport has reached that decision by weighing the consequences of each potential action.
Individuals, however, have the right to choose whether or not to subject themselves to these privacy violations. It must be understood that while full body screening does appear to violate privacy according to the ethics of many Americans, they have a choice as to whether or not they wish to subject themselves to his procedure. Ultimately, if one's privacy is being violated, it is because they chose to submit themselves to such a violation.
Hofstede, G. (2009). Cultural dimensions: United States. Geert-Hofstede.com. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_united_states.shtml
Privacy Act of 1974. 5 U.S.C. § 552a. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.justice.gov/archive/oip/privstat.htm
Rucker, P. (2010) TSA tries to assuage privacy concerns about full-body scans. Washington Post. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/03/AR2010010301826.html
Agence France-Press. (2010). Airport body scans breach rights: UN export. The Montreal Gazette. Retrieved March 13, 2010 from http://www.montrealgazette.com/travel/Airport+body+scans+breach+rights+expert/2665961/story.html