TSA Delays Real-World Testing of Body Scanner

Associated Press
Monday, December 25, 2006

PHOENIX -- A test of an X-ray security scanner that can see through clothing, taking clear pictures of the human body along with concealed weapons, has been delayed until early next year at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.

The federal Transportation Security Administration initially said one machine would be operating at Sky Harbor by Christmas. However, the agency said technical difficulties were creating problems in setting up the equipment so that it works properly with the airport's wireless connections.

It also decided the holiday season was not a good time to start.

"The last thing we wanted to do was start this during one of the busiest travel times of the year," said Nico Melendez, an agency spokesman.

Melendez would not be specific about when the machine will be ready, saying only that it would be installed within a few months.

Sky Harbor will be the first airport in the country to test the equipment, and the TSA will test the machines in 2007 at a few more airports.

Critics say the high-resolution images are too invasive; the American Civil Liberties Union has said the device performs a virtual strip search.

The TSA says it has found a way to adjust the machine's images so the pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective at detecting threats.

Others have said the scanner could expose travelers to potentially harmful radiation, which the TSA disputes.

The technology already is being used in prisons and by drug-enforcement agents, and it has been tested at London's Heathrow Airport.

During the pilot program, the X-ray machine will be used only as a secondary screening measure; passengers who fail the standard screening process will be able to choose between the new device or a typical pat-down search.

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