Guest Author - Julia Reed Zaic
The Christmas Day failed bombing attempt over Detroit renewed our awareness of terrorist threats against American targets. However, even prior to that failed attempt, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took advantage of stimulus money last year by purchasing 150 full body scanners in an effort to increase airport security. Now, with new attention focused on the privacy issues surrounding these scanners, get ready to see them in 29 airports nationwide. Know your rights if you choose to opt out, and do the appropriate research prior to your flight in case you will need extra time at the airport.
The purpose of the scanners is not for airport authorities to a get an electronic peep show of wary travelers, but rather an increased effort to detect hidden explosives and contraband (yes, the focus will also be on law enforcement unrelated to immediate terrorist threats). Although at least 19 airports already have these scanners, with the delivery of the originally purchased scanners, the numbers of machines will increase even in airports that already house at least one scanner.
Airports comprising those that currently have and will be receiving scanners, include the following:
Charlotte, Cincinnati, Columbus, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, New York – JFK, Dallas, Detroit, San Jose, Boston, Baltimore, Chicago O’Hare, DC – Reagan National, Miami, Tulsa, Phoenix, Albequerque, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, (with the six bolded airports being reported as using the scanners as the primary security measure, according to TSA.)
At all of these locations in the United States, passengers always retain the right to opt for alternative/traditional screening methods such as metal detectors and wanding or pat-downs. However, according to CNN, 99% of passengers chose the technology over the traditional screening options. The screening takes approximately 15-30 seconds, while a pat-down takes 2-4 minutes. However, there have been concerns reported that due to the size of the machines, fewer lines can be offered, so consider your timing.
TSA claims that the scanners emit 10,000 times less radio frequency than a cell phone. The image that is produced is a robotic picture of the traveler as if they are wearing no clothes. Yet, privacy advocates are hoping to ban the scanners due to this feature.
According to CNN.com, the TSA claims that privacy issues are outweighed by security needs and that controls are in place since two security officers will be used; one working the machine who never sees the image, and a remotely located officer who sees the image yet never sees the passengers associated with the images they view. Also, the passenger’s face is blurred for privacy. The officers are prohibited from bringing cameras, or other recording devices with them into the screening room and the machines have no capacity for storage in order to save or transfer the images.
According to the most recent news reports, it seems that these scanners will be located primarily in international terminals, however the numbers of scanners to be installed will be dramatically increasing over the next year. As a business traveler, be ready to encounter them and educate yourself as to timing and information you will need if indeed you choose to opt out of the technology for privacy reasons.
Travel safely and wisely.