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Aynsley Floyd/AP
Inspector Bill Desmond points to an object hidden under clothing during a
demonstration of the U.S. Customs Service's new BodySearch scanners. (AP)

Baring it All to Fly

June 16, 2008 09:43 AM
by Josh Katz
New body scanners called backscatters reveal intimate details about one’s body, and are being installed in airports around the country.

30-Second Summary

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Currently, randomly chosen passengers are using the new technology in airports in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Denver, Albuquerque and New York. This month, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas and Miami will be added to that list, making for a total of 38 operating machines in the United States, each costing around $170,000.

On average, the scanning process takes 30 seconds and it involves innocuous “millimeter waves.” But passengers and privacy advocates are concerned over the detailed images, which can show the “sweat on someone’s back,” according to James Schear, the Transportation Security Administration security director at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

But the TSA promises that the images will remain as impersonal as possible. The airport employee who sees the passenger pushes a button to snap the picture but does not see it; a screener in another room examines the image for anything suspicious and then promptly deletes it. The faces are blurred and the passengers have the option of a pat-down in place of the scanner.

The American Civil Liberties Union has led the charge against the scanners, calling them a blatant disregard for privacy. There is also no guarantee that images would not find their way to the public, and the revelation of certain details like colostomy bags would be humiliating. Opponents also claim that the technology does not guarantee safety—a government audit said that weapons could pass through unnoticed.

Proponents contend that some privacy must be sacrificed
for the sake of national security, and the measures imposed by the TSA to minimize discomfort are adequate.  

Headline Link: Body scanners coming to an airport near you

Opinion & Analysis: Weighing privacy versus national security

Related Topic: ‘U.S. tries to speed up airport screening by sorting passengers’

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