Jeffrey Rosen is president of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and a law professor at George Washington University.
The problem with the government’s handling of surveillance since Sept. 11, 2001, comes down to the choice of the naked machine over the blob machine.
In 2002, the Transportation Safety Administration had to pick between two airport screening technologies: one that showed graphic images of a passenger’s naked body and one that represented the body as a nondescript blob, with arrows pointing to the areas that required secondary screening. Because both technologies promised the same amount of security, while one also protected privacy, you would think the choice between them would be a no-brainer. In fact, both the Bush and the Obama administrations supported the wide deployment of the naked machine over the blob machine.
It took a political protest — represented by the Patrick Henry of the anti-body-scanner movement, the gentleman who in 2010 exclaimed to a TSA agent, “Don’t touch my junk” — to persuade the Obama administration and Congress to reconsider. This year, the TSA removed the invasive technology from major airports and replaced it with more privacy-protective machines.