A new airport security scanner that can "see" through clothing is an "egregious" breach of privacy, says a civil rights advocate.
A "millimetre wave" scanner that uses harmless radio waves to capture what look like naked images of travellers is being tested in a pilot project at Kelowna International Airport beginning this week, the first time it's being used in Canada.
To guard passenger privacy, the three-dimensional images, with facial features obscured, will be viewed by security guards in a room separate from that through which travellers pass. The images are deleted immediately after the scan.
The pilot project, which will scan only passengers who consent, has been approved by the federal privacy commission.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, a federal corporation that provides security at airports, said it will speed up the process of going through security and keep air travel safer.
The website belonging to L3 Communications, the company that manufactures the machines, shows travellers entering a booth, lifting their arms and emerging in mere seconds.
Civil rights advocates call it a "virtual strip search" and say that no degree of efficiency and safety can justify the "assault on the integrity" of travellers.
"Anytime you're stripped naked for the government, it's definitely a privacy concern," said Michael Vonn of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
She said the technology was designed to replace physical strip searches and should be used only where such intrusive searches are normally warranted, such as at borders and in prisons.
She said provisions to obscure passengers' identities doesn't diminish her concerns about intrusion.
"Would passengers care if they were paraded through the airport with bags over their heads or if their 12-year-old daughter on her way to visit her grandmother was seen on a computer screen by buddy in the back room?" she said.
"It's the most egregious form of invasion of privacy," said Vonn.
"Anybody who has a certain amount of physical modesty, imagine the abject horror of what this is," said Vonn.
Ismeer Zuberi of the Canadian Council of American-Islamic Relations said, "It would offend the sensibilities of people to have their full nude image being taken."
The question of whether or not it would be objected to on religious grounds for Muslims would have to be evaluated by Islamic scholars, he said. (MORE)