Body scanning machines coming to O'Hare

December 29, 2009 (CHICAGO) While some passengers are supportive of anything that increases security, others are concerned about privacy.

The American Civil Liberties Union told ABC7 they don't mind the technology being used, so long as it is a secondary screening call for targeted individuals and not for the public as a whole.

The travelers ABC7 spoke to said they don't mind, even though they don't understand the technology, so long as it makes them more safe.

It is called a backscatter machine. It provides a full-body x-ray image. If you're carrying a foreign object, even under layers of clothing, it should show up, but so too does every layer of your body. Critics call it a virtual strip search.

"We'll work diligently with TSA as well as Homeland Security to bring in any technology that will provide a safer environment for the traveling public," said Rosemarie Andolino, Chicago Aviation Commissioner.

What is not yet known is how many machines O'Hare will receive and what protocols will be used to operate them. That concerns civil liberties activists.

"If officials put every airline passenger going through O'Hare through one of these body scans, that is a massive invasion of civil liberties. It is a virtual strip-search said Colleen Connell, ACLU.

It literally appeals away every layer of clothing. They say travelers should not be concerned because the images are digitized. All that is revealed to the operator is an outline of the person's body.

"I have gone through it in London in the past, and sometimes they pull you out of line, and they put you through it. It's not a big deal," Edward Labinjo said.

Nineteen U.S. airports already have them. A few have had them for years while their effectiveness has been studied. Six of the 19 airports use the body scanners as a primary screening device.

"I think that safety is more important than anything else. There are some times you have to sacrifice for safety," passenger Dora Maya said.

"Anything that helps with security and additional security on the planes, I have no problem with," Pam Wright said.

At the airports where these back scatters are used, the passengers have a choice. They can opt out of the scan and go through a full body pat-down instead.

In the aftermath of the failed bombing attempt on Flight 253, many passengers say that privacy should yield to safety. Still, critics, including many members of Congress, ask, 'How far does security go? When does it end? Can't any technology ultimately be tricked, and what about earlier bomb detectors?'

The TSA spent millions on so-called puffer machines, some of which were installed at Midway, but humidity and dust fouled up the machines and they were pulled.

The TSA has purchased 150 backscatter machines and is investing in so-called millimeter wave body scanners.

Most experts believe that a body scanner would have detected the bomb making materials that Umar Abdulmulltalab had hidden in his underwear.

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam has microwave body scanners, but does not typically use them for passengers on U.S. bound flights. The young Nigerian did not go through any scanners in Amsterdam because he was already on the secure side of the airport.

The backscatters should arrive in Chicago sometime during the first quarter of next year.

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