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Scan safeguards no match for sex, celebrity

Dale McFeatters
Scripps Howard News Service
Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

That didn’t take long, did it? But it was bound to happen.

Airline screeners at a London airport printed and copied the full-body scan of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan even though the authorities had promised that the scans would be instantly deleted and that the staff would be unaware of whom they were screening.

Khan was good-natured about it. He said on British TV that as he was leaving the scanner, “I saw these girls — they had printouts. I looked at them. I thought they were forms you had to fill. I said, ‘Give them to me’ — and you could see everything inside. So I autographed them for them.”

He was, after all, in England on a publicity tour for his new film, “My Name Is Khan,” about the tribulations of an Indian Muslim couple who must cross the United States to reunite in the aftermath of 9/11.

The Transportation Security Administration stepped up its program of installing full-body scanners at U.S. airports following the failed attempt Christmas Day to set off a bomb on a Detroit-bound airliner. TSA’s privacy safeguards are similar to those that failed in London.

The combination of curiosity and prurience can be overwhelming. There were the passport clerks who made unauthorized searches of the applications of film stars and prominent politicians. Following Joe the Plumber’s sudden fame, Ohio government agencies made eight searches of his records that had no legitimate purpose. And a nominee to head the TSA, since withdrawn, used a police agency to run a background check on his estranged wife’s boyfriend.

Given human nature, these lapses are almost bound to happen. Most of us lack Khan’s intoxicating draw of sex and celebrity, but all that stands between us and appearing nude on the Internet is the TSA’s good intentions.

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