X-ray ‘virtual strip search’ machines going away at O’Hare
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org October 19, 2012 6:18PM
3-15-10 O'Hare Airport get its new Advanced Imaging Technology( body scanner) to safely screen passengers for both metalic and non-metallic threats including weapons and explosives.....allowing Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employees to screen passengers without physical contact. Twenty airports nationwide are now using full body scanners. Brian Jackson/Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: November 21, 2012 6:10AM
Most passengers flying out of O’Hare Airport will no longer be subjected to what the American Civil Liberties Union calls a “virtual strip search” while passing through security checkpoints.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is removing 23 of the 29 X-ray body scanners at O’Hare that produce blurred images of naked bodies. The bulky scanners, installed after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day, 2009, are being replaced by so-called “millimeter-wave scanners” with “automated target recognition” that relies on radio waves like those used in cell phones.
TSA spokesman Luis Casanova said the decision to remove the controversial machines at O’Hare and at airports in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Orlando is all about speeding the movement of passengers through security checkpoints.
The average screening time is expected to go from 35 seconds per passenger to seven seconds. The transition began in September and is expected to be completed in January.
“What comes up is a computer-generated image that’s the same for everyone — kind of like an outline of a person. If you forgot to remove your cell phone from your pocket, it shows up as a yellow box around that area. The officer knows where to search, and you’ll be able to see why he’s targeting that area,” Casanova said.
“Before, a person in another room had to give the okay. Now, that room is no longer necessary. That person has joined the checkpoint. And the ATR lets passengers see exactly what the officer sees. It’s a targeted search. If you have something on your waste, they pat it down and you’re off and running.” Casanova insisted that radiation risks and privacy concerns had “no bearing” on the decision.
But that didn’t stop the ACLU from applauding the TSA for finding the “appropriate balance” between personal privacy and security.
“You shouldn’t be subjected to a virtual strip-search just to get on an airplane,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said.
Branding X-ray scanners “invasive,” Yohnka said, “They essentially created a naked picture of one’s body with no reason to believe someone was carrying something under their clothes. There were a number of different technologies being utilized in Europe that allowed for checking for explosives, which is what this was supposed to be about, without subjecting people to these invasive procedures.”
With 67 million annual passengers, O’Hare is the nation’s second busiest airport and the fourth-busiest in the world. It’s no. 2 in the nation and the world in flight operations.