NOLA Airport to begin ‘virtual strip searches’

WWL Louisiana

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has announced that New Orleans’ Louis Armstrong International Airport is one of eight airports set to receive full body scanners to detect items hidden under a person’s clothing.

Critics call the technology a ‘virtual strip search’ and an invasion of privacy because it displays nearly nude images of passengers.

The machines scan a traveler’s entire body and then display the image onto a computer screen for examination and review.

Jon Allen, with the Transportation Security Administration, says several steps are taken to assure passenger privacy.

The images are viewed in a remote room, where an officer has no way of seeing the passenger themselves.

“They only see the image. Any officers who are with the passenger do not see the image,” says Allen.

“There is no way to connect and associate a particular passenger with an image,” he says. “Those officers communicate discreetly via radio headset.”

Listen to Don Ames’ conversation with Allen:


And he says the images cannot be stored.

“Once a passenger has been cleared and is able to proceed to the gate, that image is deleted.”

“There’s no storage capability. There’s no way to email or print or otherwise deliver that image to somebody else,” Allen says.

And, travelers who don’t want to have their bodies scanned by the machine, can decline.

“If, for any reason, a passenger is not comfortable being screened with this technology, they can opt out of it. “They would receive a commiserate level of screening otherwise that would include a pat-down,” says Allen.

The controversial technology has had mixed reviews, with officials saying it’s a more accurate way to ensure passenger safety.

The scanners are already in place at 51 airports across the country.

Allen says the department plans to have 450 scanners in operation by the end of the year.

The technology gained momentum after an attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day aboard a flight to Detroit, in which a man strapped a bomb to his leg.

The machines are being paid for through the $3 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fund, aimed at increasing homeland security efforts.

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