News24

US upgrades airline security

2010-03-05 19:24

Boston - The Transportation Security Administration is fielding a second, more widespread wave of full-body scanners at US airports amid heightened concern about hidden explosives.

Three new machines going online at Boston's Logan International Airport were being displayed for the media on Friday.

They go into service at a terminal used by Delta and Continental airlines on Monday and will be at the vanguard of 150 new machines being installed across the country by the end of summer. Officials say a fourth scanner will be placed at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago within a week.

Deployment of the machines was announced in the fall, before a Nigerian allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with explosives concealed in his underwear.

But that event highlighted the need for additional security in the US aviation system. There are already 40 scanners installed at 19 US airports.

Other countries have also signed on to use the technology, including Nigeria and the Netherlands, where the final leg of the man's flight originated.

Screening methods

Civil libertarians and even Pope Benedict XVI have complained that the new machines can violate a passenger's privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the screening as a "virtual strip search."

The TSA says that the units won't be able to print or store images, and that the officer viewing them will have no contact with passengers.

The scanners allow the TSA to see beneath a passenger's clothing, to search for contraband not detectable to the eye or a metal screener.

Passengers will have the option of accepting or declining a body scan. Those who do - and pass - will not have to walk through a metal detector or other security equipment. Those who decline will be subject to alternative screening methods.

Images from the machine will be displayed in a remote viewing room. A passenger's face will be blurred, and the image will be seen only by an officer in the room. The passenger will remain at the checkpoint until the remote officer gives the all-clear to another officer standing with the passenger.

The Obama administration announced in February 2009 that it would provide $1bn for airport screening as part of its federal stimulus package.