MSNBC, WASHINGTON - High-tech security scanners that might have prevented the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a jetliner have been installed in only a small number of airports around the world, in large part because of privacy concerns over the way the machines see through clothing.
The technology is in place at 19 U.S. airports, while European officials have generally limited it to test runs.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to ignite explosives aboard a Northwest Airlines jet as it was coming in for a landing in Detroit, did not go through such a scan where his flight began, at Amsterdam's Schipol airport.The full-body scanner "could have been helpful in this case, absolutely," said Evert van Zwol, head of the Dutch Pilots Association.
But the technology has raised significant concerns among privacy watchdogs because it can show the body's contours with embarrassing clarity. Those fears have slowed the introduction of the machines.
'Virtual strip searches'
Jay Stanley, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program, said the machines essentially perform "virtual strip searches that see through your clothing and reveal the size and shape of your body."
Abdulmutallab passed through a routine security check at the gate in Amsterdam before boarding, officials said. He is believed to have tucked into his trousers or underwear a small bag holding PETN explosive powder, and possibly a liquid detonator.
Because such items won't set off metal detectors, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, part of the Department of Homeland Security, has begun installing two types of advanced scanning machines that provide a more detailed picture, more from this source.....
Keeping flying passengers safe involves many tools, By SCOTT CANON and MATT CAMPBELL, The Kansas City Star
We have Richard Reid and his bungled attempt to down a jet with exploding footwear in 2001 to thank for making us remove our shoes at the airport.
Now that a Nigerian allegedly stashed the same chemical explosive in his underwear to sabotage a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, must we remove our shorts as well?
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” said Mayer Nudell, a security consultant formerly of the Institute on Counter-Terrorism. “The key is finding methods that are effective and not just cosmetic, which is what we’ve been doing too much of lately.”
The most obvious fix is in the pipeline. The Transportation Security Administration has been deploying millimeter-wave sensors that perform virtual strip searches to produce something imagined in those X-ray glasses advertisements that once appeared in the back of comic books.
Because they are regarded as more thorough, the full-body scanners likely will replace so-called puffer machines that blow air over a passenger and look for traces of the nitrogen found in most explosives. They also could replace hand-held sniffers and swab collectors used to look for evidence of bomb-making material.
Still, the body scanners have also been derided as an invasion of privacy because they give strangers working in security a way to peer through travelers’ garments.
Bill Warner, a private investigator in Florida with expertise on terrorism and explosives detection, said Americans may have to suck it up to protect against terrorists.