The revealing X-ray machines that the federal government wants to use on airline passengers are getting a makeover. The Transportation Security Administration is paying two manufacturers to develop ways to expose weapons but conceal body parts.
The machines bounce low-radiation X-rays off a person's skin to produce photo like computer images of metal, plastic and organic materials hidden under clothes. They have the potential to detect all weapons on passengers, including plastic knives and explosives that won't set off the metal detectors now used at airport checkpoints. But the American Civil Liberties Union calls them "a virtual strip search."
The TSA now hopes to test modified "backscatter" machines in a few airports this fall that will solve the privacy issue. That's a "significant software challenge" because wiping out body parts also makes weapons less visible, says Peter Kant, a vice president at backscatter maker Rapiscan Systems, reports USA Today.
According to Reuters, the TSA, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, was created as part of the response to the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. Previously, airport security was handled by private corporations.
However, the agency has faced criticism for instituting blanket searches of all passengers instead of focusing on those who might constitute a higher risk, and spending too much time looking for nail scissors instead of concentrating on detecting possible suicide bombers.