Feds Secretly X-Raying Cars, Drivers

'Drive-by snooping' latest assault on privacy, say critics
By Mary Papenfuss,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2010 4:07 AM CDT
Updated Sep 30, 2010 8:00 AM CDT
Feds Secretly X-Raying Vehicles, Drivers
Using a Z Backscatter Van, officials detected heroin in this truck.   (Photo: Business Wire)

(Newser) – Federal investigators are randomly X-raying vehicles and their drivers in a hunt for terrorists and crooks, triggering howls of outrage from privacy advocates. "This really trips up the creep factor because it's one of those things that you sort of intrinsically think the government shouldn't be doing," says a privacy expert. "I have real problems with rolling surveillance of American citizens." The feds and foreign governments have purchased more than 500 Z Backscatter Vans from a Massachusetts firm that allows investigators to zap vehicles with X-rays to see what's inside. Many of the vans are used in war zones, but they're also deployed on American streets for "drive-by snooping," notes Forbes.

Earlier this week in Atlanta, Department of Homeland Security agents used mobile X-ray technology to zap trucks, even though there was no specific threat, reports the Christian Science Monitor. A company spokesman insists the X-rays don't have the embarrassing level of body detail of an airport scanner. "From a privacy standpoint I'm hard-pressed to see what the concern could be," he says. Responded an ACLU attorney: "Without a warrant the government doesn't have a right to peer beneath your clothes." (Read more Z Backscatter Vans stories.)

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