London, Apr 19: Travellers at New York and Los Angeles airports will soon have no place to hide - for a new scanner, which can see through clothes, is going to be installed at two of the country's busiest and highest-profile airports.
The millimetre wave imaging technology, which begins trials this week, creates a picture of the body, which according to critics, amounts to a 'virtual strip search'. But, security officials say it can show contours of the body and can pick up hidden items, such as guns or knives, which may be more effective than a physical 'pat-down' in detecting contraband. After the normal airport routine of walking through metal detectors, some travellers will be selected at random to go through the scanning devices, which each cost 75,000 pounds. Passengers will walk into a large booth and the machine will beam electromagnetic waves on to the body, creating a three-dimensional image from reflected energy.
Security staff in a separate room will examine the image, which will later be erased from the system.
Officials say that this distance protects a person's privacy because, apart from the image, they are unable to see the people being examined. The passenger's face is blurred and the images are not stored.
Passengers may choose not to go through the scanner, but will then be subject to other screening, including pat-down searches.
The US Transportation Security Administration plans to buy at least 30 of the devices, but the first machines are being used in Los Angeles and John F. Kennedy in New York.
"This will allow us to enhance our security at LAX (Los Angeles airport)," the Telegraph quoted Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman, as saying.
"Imaging devices are not a brand new security tool, but they are a brand new security tool for airports," Melendez added.
But Peter Bibring, from the American Civil Liberties Union said that safeguards were needed if the technology was not going to be abused.
"I don't think people are really aware of just how accurate and detailed the images are of their naked body," he said.
"We need to make sure there are good safeguards. The temptation is great not to follow procedures when a celebrity or someone well known is involved," he added.