By Thomas Frank, USA TODAY 2/18/2009WASHINGTON
For the first time, some airline passengers will skip metal detectors andinstead be screened by body scanning machines that look through clothing for hidden weapons,the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.An experimental program that begins today at Tulsa International Airport will test whether the$170,000 body scanners could replace $10,000 metal detectors that have screened airlinepassengers since 1973. Airports in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque and Salt LakeCity will join the test in the next two months, TSA spokesman Christopher White said.The scanners aim to close a loophole by finding non-metallic weapons such as plastic and liquidexplosives, which the TSA considers a major threat. The machines raise privacy concernsbecause their images reveal outlines of private body parts."We're getting closer and closer to a required strip-search to board an airplane," said BarrySteinhardt of the American Civil Liberties Union.Privacy advocate Melissa Ngo fears that passengers won't understand that the scanners take vividimages that screeners view.White said each scanner has explanatory signs on how the machines work and posters showingthe image they create.Passengers at the test airports will be instructed to go through the new scanners. Anyone whodoesn't want to go through will be allowed to refuse and instead go through a metal detector andreceive a pat-down, White said.People in the scanner will stand with their arms raised and their face will be blurred out in themetallic-looking image on a nearby screen. TSA screeners view the images from inside a closedroom near a checkpoint and immediately delete them."We've struck a very good balance between security and privacy," White said.Christopher Bidwell, security chief at the Airports Council International trade group, said thescanner "really does not reveal as much as some people might think."The scanners aim to address problems exposed by government probes in which covert agents gotliquid explosives and detonators through airport checkpoints. A 2005 Homeland Security reporturged better checkpoint technology.Security analyst Bruce Schneier, a frequent critic of the TSA, said the scanners should improvesecurity but warned that they take longer than metal detectors
30 seconds vs. about 15seconds per passenger. "There will be pressure to do the screening faster, which will besloppier," Schneier said.