Body-scanning machines that show images of
people underneath their clothing are being installed in 10 of the
nation's busiest airports in one of the biggest public uses of security
devices that reveal intimate body parts.
Security Administration (TSA) recently started using body scans on
randomly chosen passengers in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver,
Albuquerque and at New York's Kennedy airport.
Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami will be added this month. Reagan
National Airport in Washington starts using a body scanner today. A
total of 38 machines will be in use within weeks.
"It's the wave
of the future," said James Schear, the TSA security director at
Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, where two
body scanners are in use at one checkpoint.
Schear said the
scanners could eventually replace metal detectors at the nation's 2,000
airport checkpoints and the pat-downs done on passengers who need extra
screening. "We're just scratching the surface of what we can do with
whole-body imaging," Schear said.
The TSA effort could encourage
scanners' use in rail stations, arenas and office buildings, the
American Civil Liberties Union said. "This may well set a precedent
that others will follow," said Barry Steinhardt, head of the ACLU
Scanners are used in a few courthouses, jails
and U.S. embassies, as well as overseas border crossings, military
checkpoints and some foreign airports such as Amsterdam's Schiphol.
scanners bounce harmless "millimeter waves" off passengers who are
selected to stand inside a portal with arms raised after clearing the
metal detector. A TSA screener in a nearby room views the
black-and-white image and looks for objects on a screen that are shaded
differently from the body. Finding a suspicious object, a screener
radios a colleague at the checkpoint to search the passenger.
TSA says it protects privacy by blurring passengers' faces and deleting
images right after viewing. Yet the images are detailed, clearly
showing a person's gender. "You can actually see the sweat on someone's
back," Schear said.
The scanners aim to strengthen airport
security by spotting plastic and ceramic weapons and explosives that
evade metal detectors and are the biggest threat to aviation.
Government audits have found that screeners miss a large number of
weapons, bombs and bomb parts such as wires and timers that agents
sneak through checkpoints.
"I'm delighted by this development,"
said Clark Kent Ervin, the former Homeland Security inspector general
whose reports urged the use of body scanners. "This really is the
ultimate answer to increasing screeners' ability to spot concealed
The scanners do a good job seeing under clothing but
cannot see through plastic or rubber materials that resemble skin, said
Peter Siegel, a senior scientist at the California Institute of
"You probably could find very common materials that
you could wrap around you that would effectively obscure things,"
Passengers who went through a scanner at the
Baltimore airport last week were intrigued, reassured and occasionally
wary. The process took about 30 seconds on average.
the 9-foot-tall glass booth, Eileen Reardon of Baltimore looked
startled when an electronic glass door slid around the outside of the
machine to create the image of her body. "Some of this stuff seems a
little crazy," Reardon said, "but in this day and age, you have to go
along with it."
Scott Shafer of Phoenix didn't mind a screener
looking at him underneath his shorts and polo shirt from a nearby room.
The door is kept shut and blocked with floor screens. "I don't know
that person back there. I'll never seem them," Shafer said. "Everything
personal is taken out of the equation."
Steinhardt of the ACLU
said passengers would be alarmed if they saw the image of their body.
"It all seems very clinical and non-threatening