The Transportation Security Administration is fielding a second, more widespread wave of full-body scanners at U.S. airports amid heightened concern about hidden explosives.
Three new machines going online at Boston's Logan International Airport were being displayed for the media Friday.
They go into service Monday at a terminal used by Delta and Continental airlines and will be at the vanguard of 150 new machines being installed across the country by the end of summer. Officials say a fourth scanner will be placed at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago within the next week.
Deployment of the machines was announced in the fall, before a Nigerian allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day with explosives concealed in his underwear.
But that event highlighted the need for additional security in the U.S. aviation system. There are already 40 scanners installed at 19 U.S. airports.
Other countries have also signed on to use the technology, including Nigeria and the Netherlands, where the final leg of the man's flight originated.
Civil libertarians and even Pope Benedict XVI have complained that the new machines can violate a passenger's privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the screening as a "virtual strip search."
The TSA says that the units won't be able to print or store images, and that the officer viewing them will have no contact with passengers.
The scanners allow the TSA to see beneath a passenger's clothing, to search for contraband not detectable to the eye or a metal screener.
Passengers will have the option of accepting or declining a body scan. Those who do — and pass — will not have to walk through a metal detector or other security equipment. Those who decline will be subject to alternative screening methods.
Images from the machine will be displayed in a remote viewing room. A passenger's face will be blurred, and the image will be seen only by an officer in the room. The passenger will remain at the checkpoint until the remote officer gives the all-clear to another officer standing with the passenger.
Sample images are on display at the TSA's Web site.
The Obama administration announced in February 2009 that it would provide $1 billion for airport screening as part of its federal stimulus package.
In May, the administration detailed how that money would be spent — including $25 million for the new scanners. Between May and September, the department asked contractors to provide proposals for building the scanners. Competing models were tested over the summer.
The department awarded the contract to California-based Rapiscan at the end of September.
On the Net:
Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.gov
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