Monday, February 26, 2007

A New Screening Device That Gets You Naked

A new controversial federal screening system has been installed for 90 days on Friday at Sky Harbor International Airport, Phoenix, at the largest terminal.

This is the first test of the device that employs X-rays to “see” through passenger's bodies in the search of hidden explosives and other weapons. The technique is able to watch through clothes and reveals the body's contours with extreme accuracy, just as if the person would stay naked.

There are already critical voices claiming the high-resolution

images are too invasive. In response, the Transportation Security Administration said the device was tuned to make the image look less explicit, like a drawing line, but still tracking down hidden objects.

The new device will be used just as a second screening measure, and the passengers who do not pass by the metal detector could choose between the novel technique and a corporal search. "It's 100 % voluntary, so if the passenger doesn't feel comfortable with it, the passenger doesn't have to go through it," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.

The one-minute procedure requires passengers to stand in front of the closet-sized X-ray device with the palms of their hands facing out, from front and behind. "It seems faster. I'm not uncomfortable with it," said one of those tested. "I trust TSA, and I trust that they are definitely trying to make things go quickly and smoothly in the airport.”

Some experts are not so trusty.

"The more obscure they make the image, the more obscure the contraband, weapons and explosives. The graphic image is a strip-search. You shouldn't have to be strip-searched to get on an airplane. Millions of Americans would regard them as pornographic." said Barry Steinhardt, director of the Technology and Liberty Project at the ACLU in Washington, D.C.

TSA would like to install the same technique at the Los Angeles airport and New York's Kennedy Airport by the end of 2007. “The security officer who works with the passenger going through the screening will never see the images the machine produces. The pictures will be viewed by another officer about 50 feet (16 m) away who will not see the passenger. The machine cannot store the images or transmit them and once we're done screening the passenger, the image is gone forever," said Melendez.

Image credit: AS&E
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