February 11, 1997
Web posted: 3:40 p.m. EST
(CNN) -- ... and it's got some people worried about whether the new technology is too intrusive.
Metal detectors, installed in U.S. airports after a series of
skyjackings in the 1960s and early '70s, have become a
familiar and routine part of air travel.
But they don't sound an alarm over organic materials, like
drugs or plastic explosives. It was Semtex, a type of
plastic explosive, that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over
Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, killing 269 people. The
bombing prompted a call for improved air security.
Technology is already available to stop a passenger carrying
any type of contraband, according to the National Security
Council, but public acceptance of it is another matter.
One controversial solution being looked at by the Federal
Aviation Administration is Body
Search, an imaging device that
uses low-level radiation to X-ray a suspect. The scanner
renders clothing transparent, laying bare what's underneath.
Peter Harris of American Science and Engineering, the firm
that developed the device, said it's already in use in
"This system was designed for use where security officials
had already determined that there was sufficient cause for a
strip search," Harris said.
But Lyle Malotky of the FAA said that if the agency sees
sufficient threat posed by people carrying weapons that
today's metal detectors can't detect, body-scanning -- the
high-tech equivalent of a strip search -- may become
And that worries some people, especially because of the
explicitness of the image it renders on the computer screen.
The American Civil Liberties Union says strip searches are
rare in U.S. airports and that less intrusive technologies
Industry officials, acknowledging the need to balance privacy
and protection, are looking to tone down the body-scanners of
the future so they'll produce less graphic images.
But for now, as passengers' baggage come under increasing
scrutiny in the future, so might their bodies.
Correspondant Mary Ann McGann contributed to this report.
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