Full body scanners that have stirred controversy for producing virtually naked images of airline passengers are coming to airports near you next month.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced that the hotly debated machines will be installed at Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia international airports in September. TSA officials contend that the technology allows security screeners to see non-metal weapons like explosives that go undetected by existing metal detectors.
In March 2010, the agency started sending out 450 machines, which were bought with funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Forty-one airports across the country already have the imaging technology installed at security checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
While the TSA calls the technology less invasive than a pat-down, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center is suing the Department of Homeland Security to stop the use of the machines, charging that the scanners are unconstitutional.
“Body scanners produce detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals,” the group states on its Web site. “Security experts have described whole body scanners as the equivalent of ‘a physically invasive strip-search.’”
Only passengers that are flagged for extra security screenings are asked to go stand in the machines for imaging.
The TSA has tried to allay the public’s privacy concerns by stating that the scanners cannot store naked images of travelers, but through a Freedom of Information Act request EPIC found that one of these machines at a courthouse in Florida had stored 35,314 images.
Acting director of the TSA, Gale Rossides, said in a letter to EPIC, “It seems that though the machines at airports are manufactured with the capability to store images, that capability is used in ‘testing mode’ only – and not at airports."