Travelers exposed? TSA buys new body scan machines

By Juan Carlos Fanjul - bio | email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL(WFLX) - Sid Boregowda of Jupiter is dreading his 24-hour trip to his native country, India, which started at PBIA Tuesday.

Pat-downs are the new norm at the airport after the foiled jetliner bombing on Christmas day, but he wouldn't mind going through a body scanning machine that shows every possible hidden weapon and exposes every private part.

"If it will be watched only by security officials it will be ok. I think they will keep it confidential," said Boregowda.

Palm Beach International Airport is not among the 19 airports that currently use the scanning machine, but the TSA just ordered 450 to be installed in the new year.

A spokeswoman would not say if any of those will be installed at PBIA in 2010.

There are two kinds of body scanners right now.

The TSA currently uses Millimeter Wave technology. Transmitters rotate around the passenger and send out radio waves to create a three dimensional picture.

Privacy experts say Backscatter machines are less invasive and faster. They use a low level x-ray to scan a person's body in eight seconds.

Random passengers we talked with at the airport didn't seem to mind either technique for safety's sake.

"I guess it's ok as long as it's done very discretely," said one woman.

"I think it's personally a good idea if it's done in an enclosed area," added another passenger.

If the installed at PBIA the body scanner would be in a separate, enclosed area. No other passengers would be able to see the display and the picture is automatically deleted after use. The machines have no storage capability.

Body scanning machines are used randomly and at the discretion of TSA personnel if they deem someone to be suspicious something the ACLU approves of. However, they urge the government to be cautious.

"They raise all sorts of privacy problems because they amount to a virtual electronic strip search," said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida.