User-agent: * Allow: / Legal news, political opinion, Satire, and lawyer thinking by Tim Paynter, Attorney at Law: Border Patrol Using “Peep Show” Mobile X-Ray

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Border Patrol Using “Peep Show” Mobile X-Ray

The US Border Patrol has deployed “see through” mobile X-Ray vans they can use to see into vehicles and houses.  This is the radar technology which allows operators a private “peep show” of body parts underneath clothing which has been the subject of controversy at airports.  You don’t have to worry about agents checking out your bod, though, at least not on purpose.

pickup with drugs
Conservative voices clamor for border security.  Ted Tancredo, running for the governor of the state of Colorado, and Jan Brewer, running for the governor of Arizona, have made national headlines in their anti-immigrant rhetoric.  The U.S. Border Patrol has met the demand for better security, in part, by acquiring mobile X-ray machines placed in vehicles the size of cargo vans and small motor homes. 

The benefits to the government of using a portable machine that allows them a clear picture of the contents in vehicles and buildings is obvious.  Time.  They don’t even have to stop the vehicle to see if the contents are of interest, much less ask for a driver’s license or insurance.  The technology has already resulted in drug busts and the apprehension of undocumented workers being smuggled.  So why object?

When an air traveler consents to a body scan that reveals as much as if he or she were standing in line buck naked, the traveler gets notice with the option of a private body check.  Not so with border control vans.  Have you heard a polite question from your border patrol agent lately?  passengeriii

“Excuse me, mam.  Would you mind if I shine this X-ray machine at your car.  I promise not to pay attention to your tommy knockers.”

The vans have been used as early as August, 2009, and most of us have not been the wiser.  Thus, matters of unreasonable search and seizure were not given a second thought.  Your consent has been presumed.

In the past, the government has been required to get a search warrant in order to gain the level of inspection into buildings and vehicles that this slick device provides.  Since law enforcement does not have to enter the vehicle or premises to inspect it, they may argue no intrusion has occurred.  In fact, inspection can be made without the owner having any idea he got zapped.  The potential for abuse is immense.


A second problem with the Backscatter X-Ray machines is exposure to harmful rays.  Supposedly, it takes 800 blasts from a law enforcement X-Ray gun to equal one hospital X-Ray, the manufacturer claims.  You know the X-Rays, where the radiologist dressed in green disappears behind a lead wall as he flips the “take picture” button.  With 800 of these units planned in the border patrol alone, and thousands possible as the rage catches on with law enforcement, those living in high usage areas could be exposed to 800 blasts fairly quickly. 

The units reportedly require a fair amount of maintenance to keep the level of X-Rays safe.  Devices subject to constant movement, like mobile vans, likely will need even more maintenance.  Don’t worry, though.  As the government contemplates budget cuts and layoffs, you can be sure they would never skimp on maintenance for the “peep show” device.

This technology is so efficient at inspecting private spaces it will be hard to keep it out of the hands of law-enforcement, absent legislation.  Since governors and senators will be able to side-step the inspection, they will have little incentive to pass such legislation.  At the same time, the price of security is a another slice of freedom from the intrusive eyes of Uncle Sam.


  1. With the holiday upon us, each person must decide for himself and herself whether to use it as an opportunity to protest unreasonable searches and seizures by asking for the physical pat down.

  2. I got scanned today without my consent or notification at a Border Patrol checkpoint south of Alpine, TX. I quit flying due to this crap so am I supposed to move now?!?!