HomeFeaturesDailyBriefingsRapidReconSpecial ReportsAbout Us

Transparent Security Screening at JFK and LAX

From the beginning, the use of backscatter x-rays to check passengers for plastic weapons and explosives that the standard magnetometers missed has been controversial. I remember the announcement of the first full-body x-ray screening equipment in 2003, when Susan Hallowell, then the Director of the TSA Security Laboratory subjected herself to the device to prove that a hidden weapon could be identified. At that time, it was believed that passengers would object to the “invasion of privacy.”

Some were uncomfortable with the technology — called "backscatter" because it scatters X-rays — while others proclaimed it "a whole lot nicer than having someone pat me down," he said.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, thinks most people will object to the technology.

"The public is willing to accept a certain amount of scrutiny at the airport, but there are clearly limits to the degree of invasion that is acceptable," Sobel said. "It's hard to understand why something this invasive is necessary."

Now, nearly five years later, and after a test period at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, this new millimeter wave scanner technology is going to be deployed at JFK and LAX. The Phoenix experience was not without contradictory reactions . One passenger with titanium implants in both shoulders and one knee said, “I’ve been all over the world; I’ve been strip-searched. This was very easy.” Others found it objectionable: “I think that is a violation of people’s personal rights. I would rather take a pat-down than go through this.”

Remembering that the use of the millimeter wave devices is reserved for people who prompt a secondary screen, the TSA says that 90% of the passengers who are separated out opt for the millimeter wave scan over a pat down.

Of course, despite the limited use of the new technology and the fact that passengers are being given a choice, the ACLU is concerned about personal privacy. I guess that’s what they have to do.

1 Comment

So far it seems a completely fair procedure. Maybe ACLU is worried about a gradual introduction leading to general use, at which point it becomes harder to challenge (once it has become normal procedure), as they would then bear some clear responsability for security failures due to its non use, should they have the system renegated. At least they provide a counterbalance of opinion and raise such issues for public scrutiny, without that , and public aproval, you might eventualy receive a backlash of public hostility towards a sector of governmental policy and those that stand to implement it, or worse end up in rather more 'dictatorial' system that habituates itself in overiding public concern and sentiment.