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Michael Roberts: One Man Against the Surveillance State


"I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport."

~ Rafi Sela, leading Israeli airport security expert, referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world

Michael Roberts, a 35-year-old airline pilot from Memphis, Tennessee, is putting everything on the line for freedom. Concerned about the world his children will grow up in, this father of six young children ranging in age from 10-months to 8-years-old has pitted himself against the American surveillance state as it encroaches upon personal privacy and our constitutional freedoms.

Friday, October 15, 2010, should have been a day like any other for Roberts. While most Americans were gearing up for the end of their work week, Roberts was setting off on his work commute, which takes him from Memphis International Airport to Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport, where he flies an Embraer 145 Regional Jet as a first officer for ExpressJet Airlines. It’s a commute he knows by heart, having done it roughly once a week for 4½ years.

Unfortunately, Roberts never made it to work that day or any day since. In fact, he never made it past the security line at the Memphis airport, which had begun using one of the new Advanced Imaging Technology full-body scanners that are currently being deployed at airports across the nation. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves, full-body scanners can "see" through clothing to produce images of an individual’s unclothed body, although they are unable to reveal material concealed in body cavities. Critics have likened the scans to "virtual strip searches" because of the degree to which details of the body are revealed. Indeed, the ACLU has urged Congress to prohibit this technology being used in airport screening, arguing that "[p]assengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies – such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes, and the size of their breasts or genitals – as a prerequisite to boarding a plane."

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