Forbes magazine recently published an article about Z Backscatter Vans. These vans have X-ray equipment inside similar to the machines that are used to virtually strip-search people at airports. The vans were deployed by the government without much fanfare. Z Backscatter Vans could have their uses, in limited applications; however, the fact that these vans came into use without much discussion is alarming to privacy advocates. The following is my analysis of where the vans could be used – and places where the vans’ use could be downright scary.
The border is a place where these vans should probably be used. When you cross the border into the United States, from either Mexico or Canada, you expect that your car can be inspected. The people can get out of the car before the van scans the car or truck, so they will not be bombarded by harmful X-rays. Border guards can make sure that suspicious vehicles are not carrying illegal immigrants, weapons, or drugs as it crosses into our country. This is a benign use of this technology that most people are likely to not have a problem with.
When I worked as an anti-terrorism officer for the United States Navy, I realized that our ports were places where the United States was very vulnerable. There are so many container ships that arrive on our shores every day, and it is difficult to inspect a full container by hand. It would be very easy for a terrorist to bring weapons into this country in a shipping container, or for a drug trafficker to bring in drugs. Using Z Backscatter Vans at the ports could save a lot of time, and could allow a more thorough inspection of the containers that enter our country. As with the inspection on the border, if the vans inspect a container at the port, the harmful X-rays would not hurt humans.
Military Base Entrances
After September 11th, the inspection of trucks entering the military base that I worked at became a very burdensome task. Trucks have to enter military bases in order to bring food and other items onto the base. While most contractors are just trying to do their job, there is the potential for a terrorist group to pose as a contractor, or make it through the vetting process and be a contractor, and enter the base with explosives. Z Backscatter Vans could be used at the entrance to military bases in order to make the process of inspecting a truck a lot easier.
Where Not To Use Vans: Homes and Streets
Z Backscatter Vans should not be used on homes and streets. Their use could lead to nightmare scenarios. Do we want the vans rumbling down our streets checking to make sure that everybody evacuates during a hurricane? What if, at some time in the future, the government was to pass a law outlawing private possession of handguns or gold? Do we want the government driving down our streets with Z Backscatter Vans to make sure that people are in compliance? If the government wants to search my home or even my car, they should get a warrant, as the Constitution requires.
Greenberg, Andy. “Drive-By Snooping.” Forbes, 27 September 2010, pp. 42-44.