▲ Jeju International Airport is increasing its security starting this September with the installation of full-body scanners. Top, left photos by Yang Ho Geun, A low resolution image captured by a full-body scanner. The actual images will be much more detailed. Bottom right photo courtesy Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs
Starting Sept. 1 a full body scanner will be installed for a trail period of one month at Jeju International Airport and will become a permanent fixture at four airports (Incheon, Jeju, Gimpo and Gimhae) this October in hopes of preventing possible terrorist attacks.
According to documents from the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs, the “scanner is capable of detecting hazardous/dangerous materials… which could not be detected by metal detectors,” such as ceramic knives or weapons and explosive materials. The scanner is able to take detailed, front and back X-rays of a passenger in less than 15 seconds.
Woo Jung Hyun, on arriving to Jeju International Airport from Busan on Aug. 17 said that she would feel as if she were considered a possible suspect if chosen to be X-rayed, and Woo is right for thinking so. Not all passengers leaving from Jeju International Airport will be subjected to the X-ray machine, only those “who might harm the safety of the flight” will be scanned, read the ministry’s documents. “It will be [used] on those who are caught by metal detectors and those who have been chosen by the TSA [Transportation Security Administration],” said Nam Kyung Woong, deputy director of the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs.
Concerning the selection of potential suspects to be scanned, there is the worry of discrimination or racial profiling and Nam said, “If you think the answers to above question [about who will be selected to be scanned] is prejudice, we can’t protect most of our passengers.” For those who refuse to be scanned they are given the option of a manual search instead.
Further controversy behind the installation of this machine comes from the fact that the images leave nothing to the imagination (the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs has prohibited the word nude or naked to be printed) and many fear this as an infringement upon their privacy. In fact only one person interviewed at the Jeju International Airport on Aug. 17 said that they did not have any privacy concerns with the use of the scanner. “I saw a sample picture,” said Kim Gi Tae who was visiting Jeju with his family from Seoul. “It is totally offensive [for anyone] to see the body image.”
To alleviate these concerns, the Ministry has taken steps to assure the public that their privacy is safe. With advice from the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the ministry decided to purchase the England Smiths Detection scanner, which does not have printing, storing or saving functions, as well as all sensitive areas, including the face, will be blurred. To further ensure the public’s safety, image analyzers are required to be of the same gender as the passenger being X-rayed and security guards are prohibited from seeing the image. Also, no cameras or cell phones are allowed in the image analyzing room.
Along with privacy issues many passengers worry about the ill effects the radiation used by the scanners may have upon their health. “My children are 8 and 6 years old,” Kim said, “Of course I’m worried about health concerns.” Though the machine will not be used on infants, children or pregnant women the question arises, if it is not safe for them then how is it safe for t hose who do not fall into those categories? Deputy Director Nam said that the scanner on high emits the same amount of radiation as a cell phone and that “we’re doing the scanning on healthy adults or youth, who can go through the X-ray [machine] and use cell phones.” She added that infants, children and pregnant women are advised against being X-rayed just as they are advised against excessive cell phone usage. This is a porous argument for the safety of the scanner considering that cell phones and X-ray machines produce different types of radiation. Even still, almost half of those interviewed at the Jeju International Airport on Aug.17 expressed little to no worry concerning possible adverse health effects caused by the scanner. “I think it will be fine for health,” said Kim Yoon Ha, a recent university graduate from Seoul on a four day vacation.
It was deemed necessary to install the scanner at Jeju International Airport because “Jeju is an ‘international’ airport and we’re obligated to keep Korean and international passengers safe,” Nam said. Though Jeju’s status as international is arguable, Lee Da Sung, also from Busan on vacation, agrees with the integration of the security measure stating, “It’s a tourist destination and I want it to be safe,” while others like Kim Gi Tae believe the scanner on Jeju to be unnecessary; “I think the government is installing them because of the G20 summit [which is to be held in Seoul this November] and I think having one at Jeju is totally irrelevant, because mainly people come here for tourist reasons,” adding, “Not all the airports have the body scanner and if they are as thorough as they are now, then this is enough and they don’t have to install the body scanner.” Even though there have been many protests from passengers concerning the new body scanners, there is no hesitation on the part of the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs and come Oct.1 the scanners will be operational and you may be subjected to a full body scan. That is of course if you are considered a possible suspect, but there is the option of a manual body search if that makes you feel more comfortable.
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