Full-Body Scanners Arrive; Civil Liberties Groups Call Machines an Unacceptable Intrusion

Published on
by
The Chicago Tribune

Full-Body Scanners Arrive; Civil Liberties Groups Call Machines an Unacceptable Intrusion

by
Kristin Mack

The first full-body scanner is finally set to arrive at O'Hare
International Airport next week, bringing with it both the hope of
better security and the fear of invasion of privacy.

When the
scanner begins operating in early March, randomly selected local
passengers will be confronted with the option of going through the
revealing imaging devices or being subjected to a pat-down.

The scanner will be installed at United Airlines' Terminal 1 within the next two weeks, Jim Fotenos, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said Tuesday.

O'Hare
and Boston's Logan International Airport, which will get three
scanners, are the first to receive 150 new full-body imaging machines
purchased with federal stimulus money, Fotenos said. The other machines
will be distributed to airports across the country by the end of June.

O'Hare
will use the machine, which shows an explicit silhouette of passengers
that can identify explosives or other weapons concealed on the body, as
an initial screening device. That means any passenger who happens to be
standing in a full-body scanner line will be randomly subject to the
controversial search. But the use of only one body scanner in a large
airport like O'Hare with many security checkpoints means that only a
small percentage of passengers will be asked to go through the machine.

"No
one has to go through it," said Fotenos, who added that signs will be
posted explaining that the scan is optional. Travelers who object,
however, will have to go through a similar level of monitoring, which
includes being screened by a metal detector or hand-wand, plus a
required old-fashioned frisk. Physical pat-downs will be conducted by a
TSA screener of the same sex.

The full-body imaging machines peer
through clothing - showing shapes, folds of fat and other anatomical
characteristics - to identify possible hidden objects. Even though
facial features are blurred to protect privacy, the images reveal
breasts, buttocks and other private parts, prompting some civil
liberties groups to call the machines an unacceptable intrusion.

"We
have continued to express concerns about the use of these machines as a
primary screener because it's an invasion of privacy that isn't
necessary," said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "There is no justification for compelling people to go through a virtual strip search to go on an airplane."

Passengers
who agree to the scan will stand inside a phone-booth-size compartment,
raise their hands over the head and place their feet on markings on the
floor. The process takes seconds.

In addition to blocking out the
person's face, the screening officers viewing the images will be
located away from the security checkpoint and do not come in contact
with passengers, Fotenos said. TSA officials will communicate with each
other via a radio system, and images are deleted after viewing,
officials said.

"Passenger privacy is ensured through the
anonymity of the image," Fotenos said. "The officer attending the
passenger will not view the image."

The TSA determines which airports get the scanners based on "risk, airport readiness and operational suitability," Fotenos said.

Scanners
were previously scheduled to arrive at O'Hare last year. O'Hare may get
additional machines at a later date. It is not known whether Midway Airport will be included.

Nineteen
U.S. airports already are using full-body imaging machines. The
high-tech scanners have been tested at airports on passengers who were
selected for more intensive scrutiny or who set off alarms while going
through traditional security measures.

The use of the machines in airports is a key part of the Obama
administration's plans to improve airport security. President Barack
Obama called for buying hundreds more of them after the attempted
Christmas Day terrorist bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

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