Airport body scanners 'VIRTUAL STRIP SEARCHES'

TRAVELLERS at Los Angeles and New York airports will be searched using a new scanner that peers through their clothes and creates an image of the person's body, federal officials announced.

The sophisticated technology, called millimetre wave imaging, might prove to be a more effective way to check travellers for guns, knives, bombs and dangerous materials than pat-down searches. But it has raised questions by privacy and civil rights advocates, who say the screening process is invasive and amounts to a virtual strip search.

"I don't think people are really aware of just how accurate and detailed the images are of their naked body," said Peter Bibring, a staff lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union in Los Angeles. "We need to make sure there are good safeguards. The temptation is great not to follow procedures when a celebrity or someone well known is involved."
Millimetre wave pictures are white and dark gray. Although somewhat fuzzy, they are detailed enough to reveal such features as breasts and body anomalies.

"This will allow us to enhance our security at LAX (Los Angeles airport)," said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman. "Imaging devices are not a brand new security tool, but they are a brand new security tool for airports."

If passengers don't want to go through the scanner, they can opt for other screening measures, including pat-down searches. Signs in the checkpoint area will advise travellers of this option. During the process, a person walks into a large portal and assumes two positions for the scan. A three-dimensional image later appears on a computer screen checked by a security official in a separate location. The process takes a minute or two.

To protect a person's privacy, officials said that security officers review the images in a booth about 20 metres away and are unable to see the passenger in question. The faces of those scanned are blurred, and the images cannot be stored, copied or printed, officials said.

source: (retrieved April 20, 2008)


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