Philadelphia airport security adds option of full-body scans
By Linda Loyd
Inquirer Staff Writer
The full-body scanner has arrived at Philadelphia International Airport. Passengers going through the Terminal F security checkpoint now have an option of using the new technology or sticking with a walk-through metal detector – followed by a pat-down.
Travelers’ reaction as they lined up to go through security Thursday: It’s no big deal.
“Hey, you’ve got to try everything new, no?” said Antonio DiMaria, who was flying home to Montreal after a business trip to Philadelphia. “It’s better. You won’t have these planes falling into buildings anymore, so why not?”
The technology can detect metallic and nonmetallic items – such as explosives and plastic weapons – under clothing.
“A walk-through metal detector, as the name implies, only detects metal,” said Ann Davis, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration.
Jack Ledoux, who also was heading home to Montreal, said he had tried the scanner at another airport. “It’s fine for me. It adds security and is faster” than a metal detector and pat-down.
“It’s fine with me,” said Tippee Allender, an account executive from Greenville, S.C. “I’d rather be safe on this flight. I know I’m not carrying anything concealed. I’ll go through it. I’d rather go through the machine than be patted down.”
Bill Meinel, a software engineer for Comcast from Bensalem, said: “I couldn’t care less. If you are in the Navy, you go through all this stuff. It doesn’t bother me. But let me ask a question: Do I still have to take my shoes off?” (The answer is yes.)
None of the half-dozen passengers at the security check about 2 p.m. objected to full-body imaging, which the airport started using about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in its busiest terminal, which handles express and regional flights.
Near the conveyor belt for carry-ons, a sign showed front and back views of a scan image and noted that the scan was optional.
“Anecdotally, I’ve heard that people appreciate there is an option,” said Deborah Ostreicher, spokeswoman for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the first U.S. airport to get the technology, in November 2007.
The millimeter wave technology that scans a traveler and the robotic image that is generated had mixed reviews initially, Ostreicher recalled. In the last three years, she said, she has not heard anything specific regarding objections or controversy.
Philadelphia will get more body scanners in coming weeks. “I don’t have a solid number for Philadelphia,” Davis said. “They will be distributed throughout the airport.”
Nationwide, 317 whole-body scanners are being tested and used in 65 airports.
The TSA says 99 percent of passengers opt to use them.
“We have seen a very high acceptance rate at airports,” Davis said. “Passengers have mostly positive remarks. Many people understand the need for it, and are happy to go through.”
The TSA says passenger privacy is ensured through the anonymity of the image. Facial features are blurred. The body image resembles a fuzzy photo negative, or a chalk etching, Davis said.
The TSA security officer working with a passenger does not see the image, and the officer viewing the image is in another location and does not see the passenger.
Officers communicate wirelessly over a headset to clear the passenger for travel.
The images cannot be stored, transmitted, or printed, and they are deleted immediately once viewed, the TSA website says. The machines have zero storage capacity, according to the website.
Privacy advocates have expressed concern that the technology performs a virtual strip search and produces “naked” pictures.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public-interest research center in Washington, sued, asserting that the scanners “produce detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals.” The group asked the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to suspend the TSA’s scanner program as “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective.”
“We went to great lengths to listen to the privacy concerns,” Davis said. “We worked closely with the equipment manufacturers to install privacy filters that are now in place.”
Travelers can see sample images on the TSA website at www.tsa.gov by clicking on “Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) Overview.”
Whole-body imaging machines are still in the testing phase. The goal is to install 450 in airports by the end of this year, and 500 more by the end of 2011, Davis said.
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