DHS chief tries to allay fears about airport full-body scanners

March 9, 2010

After the failed attempt to blow up up a U.S. commercial jet with a bomb hidden in a passenger’s underwear on Christmas Day, U.S. authorities have been racing to deploy full-body scanners in airports and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has been working in overdrive to allay fliers’ concerns about their privacy.

The Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration plan to have some 450 full-body imaging scanners — known as Advanced Imaging Technology machines¬† — deployed this year and Napolitano has been ramping up her public appearances over the last couple of days offering a defense for the need to beef up aviation security with the devices.

“I went through one in California, in San Francisco and I saw the image and I’m very comfortable with it,” she said in response to a caller to National Public Radio’s Diane Rehm Show on Tuesday. “We always offer passengers the option to go the standard way with the greater likelihood of an actual pat down.”

The advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center said on Monday that a Freedom of Information Act request to the Transportation Security Administration has revealed numerous complaints about the machines over the last couple of years, ranging from invasion of privacy to worries about health risks from the scans. Some passengers also complained that were not told by screeners that they could go through a physical patdown instead.

SECURITY-AIRLINES/SCANNERSNapolitano said that the full-body images are reviewed by security personnel who are not at the screening station so the reviewer does not see the actual person’s face and that the image produced is not meant to focus on an individual’s anatomy. Rather, the goal is to detect liquids, gels or powders that would not be picked up by metal detectors, she said.

On Monday, Napolitano told the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization that while no technology is 100 percent effective, “What we’re about is finding gaps, filling them, minimizing risk.”

Later on Tuesday she will participate in a Q&A session on the White House website to discuss aviation security and on Wednesday she leaves for Japan to discuss global efforts to beef up security after the Christmas Day incident. She has already met with officials in Europe and South America and talks are expected in Africa and the Middle East.

– Photo credit: Reuters/Phil Noble ( An airport security screener in England reviews an image from a full-body scanner.)

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