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Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has started the soft sell approach to voluntary body scanners, except of course for flights to America, for which scan, feel and interrogate is the consequence of the US intelligence failures that allowed a crotch bomber to try and blow up a flight landing at Detroit on Christmas Day.

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The brochure that passengers can study before otherwise opting for a scan in lieu of a grope, er, physical security check, pushes all the soft buttons.

scan 03Smiling attendants, happy families, and no crowds or tightly packed queues.

tardis-tennant1The booth is about the size of Dr Who’s Tardis on the outside. Of course in its quirky if not quarky interior the Tardis exhibits the reverse dimensional distortion effect to that of airliner cabins, being immense within instead of incredibly tiny.

Inside the Tardis circa 1996, courtesy BBC
Inside the Tardis circa 1996, courtesy BBC

The brochure says that all you have to do to avoid a pat down inspection, and save time, is enter the Tard…booth, stand on the marked foot places and raise your arms for three seconds, and ding, you can either keep going or get a pat down because you appear to be carrying a bomb or whatever.

No naked image of the passenger is produced, or even examined by a human. No, it is all done by automated logic pattern recognition algorithm thingy stuff that creates abstract images of rocket launchers, machine guns, hand grenades or nail scissors on the outline of an android, which is shown to a human if found so that you can be invited into a booth and told to drop ‘ em and spread ’em or whatever the entertainment of the day happens to be for bored security guards between shifts at The Ivy.

The fine print says it is safe for pregnant women and children, because it uses millimetre radio waves that do not actually penetrate the body but reveal the shape of items carried on the body.

Which is the ‘uh-oh’ moment for those who paid attention to some of the technical discussions of the merits of the millimetre body scans and those using backscatter X-ray technology. The Tard…Schiphol booths can’t handle things that are inside the body, and X-rays do, making it look like the process introduced in the Netherlands could be a technological cul de sac.

The race to the bottom in airline security (and terrible French puns) continues.