Adonis: children must go through ‘naked’ scanners

Transport secretary Lord Adonis is quoted as saying that exempting children from the ‘naked’ scanners at airports would risk undermining the security measures.

I have a number of issues with that assertion.

One is to wonder, in passing, why a decision of that nature (which seems to me to be far more about social ethics than about transportation) should fall to the transport secretary.

The other, contrary to what you might expect, is not about whether capturing such images of children is in itself appropriate. Rather, I question the longer-term effects of adopting this approach.

Once, as a child, I was on a flight from the UK to the Middle East when it made an unexpected landing at a major European airport because of a technical fault. While the airline investigated what he problem was and how to fix it, we were all transferred off the plane and into a transit lounge. At no stage was there any suggestion that we would be allowed anywhere other than the transit areas of the terminal. Despite that, I was given a full and thorough pat-down by a security officer on reaching the building from the plane. At the time, I was irritated – it seemed to me to be an unnecessary and entirely gratuitous measure.

As you can tell, it stuck in my mind. Over time, my feeling of irritation has been replaced by one of wondering why on earth I was singled out, and whether there was some motivation other than security. That’s not a pleasant feeling, even in retrospect, but it does highlight, for me, one foreseeable but probably unintended consequence of the ‘naked scanner’ policy.

At least, in my case, there was something which served to remind me that something untoward might, conceivably have happened. In the current context, we will be educating a cohort of children to submit themselves to potentially intrusive and inappropriate procedures which – to all intents and purposes “don’t happen” – a four-year-old child, say, will simply think they have been told to stand in a small room for a moment.

Then again,to pre-empt the likely comment from Richard Veryard – maybe that is the purpose of the system (POSIWID).


4 thoughts on “Adonis: children must go through ‘naked’ scanners

  1. As with all of these things, the flaw of implementation is in the design. I defy Lord Adonis to make my 5 year old stand still inside a scanner when ordered to by a strange man in uniform in a scary and unfamiliar environment like the airport. It just won't happen – so will I be refused permission to fly? It is bad enough dealing with the heart rendering sobs as Teddy goes through the luggage scanner…

  2. Robin says "we will be educating a cohort of children to submit themselves to potentially intrusive and inappropriate procedures". Well if religious organizations are going to stop performing this important social role, secular institutions will obviously have to take their place. But we have to be cautious about the use of POSIWID. Which system are we talking about? I don't think it makes sense to say that the security system has been designed to give adults cheap thrills by groping or gawping at naked children, or even to train children to accept the authority of strangers in uniforms. Instead, we have to regard this policy as the emergent consequence of a contradiction within the social ecosystem, between two incompatible notions of childhood.Clearly politicians don't want to encourage terrorists to use children as human bombs; meanwhile society doesn't want perverts to use children as sex objects. Either way, the system turns children into instruments, passive objects rather than human subjects. This kind of objectification is a de facto purpose of many systems, and it is no surprise to find it here.

  3. Scribe says:

    Richard's comment throws up an intriguing angle. Further to the idea of children as both an unscanned vector (bombs) or as an object, are we seeing the role of "the child" being used as a symbolic perspective, in the same way that "the public" has become a piece of rhetoric?Teaching children anything of value seems to be rather out of vogue. Encouraging play and exploration is seen as a "right" at best, and "risk" at worst. And yet the "right"ness of the idea of the "innocence" of children is fired around more than ever. The "child" has become a symbol of something far more disruptive than any child actually is. An ideal of civility all but lost. An argument where one wishes one could draw the line, failing to recognise that drawing any line in the first place is foolhardy. The "notion of childhood" has replaced actual childhood.In truth, though, there is very little line between adult and child. Just as the notion of "teacher" and "student" is often interchangeable between parties (a good teacher learns from their student), the notion of "accountable" and "unaccountable" distinguished by the idea of "childhood" and "adulthood" is equally little more than formal classification. In reality, there is only the "screened" and the "screener", a classification that exists at a single transactional moment in time, repeated en masse, in a kind of mass-production style conveyor belt of process.Processes are more (or less) than just badly designed to deal with these issues of "morality". They are designed, through classificatory means, to actively ignore any that are not within the needs of the system. A strange, ironic kind of equality.

  4. Robin Wilton says:

    Thank you, folks.Richard – I think it's the "passivity" of it which I think is most insidious. If children were being educated to realise that passive disclosure is one of the greatest threats to their future privacy and self-determination, I *might* be a little happier. In terms of the user experience, I think Nudiscans ought to be deployed in a way much closer to X-Ray machines. It ought to be made bloody obvious that no-one would willingly go near one if they have the option…Scribe – fascinating. Especially your hint at the idea that systems suck all the morality out of whichever transaction they instantiate. As, of course, do 'performance targets', benchmarks, scoring systems, and all the other mechanisms which have been deployed over the last couple of decades to bleed the performers dry of any sense of responsibility.

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