Most Passengers Nix 'Naked' X-Rays

Coree Cuff said it isn't unusual for her to set off the metal detectors in an airport.

In the near future, she may be one of those passengers faced with either a long security line or further screening by new airport X-ray machines that provide more detailed pictures of travelers' bodies.

Cuff isn't happy about it.

She had just flown into Yeager Airport Tuesday from Jacksonville, Fla. Asked about the new security devices that went into use this week in Phoenix, Ariz., Cuff said she would prefer not to be screened by the machines.

"I've been searched before," she said. "And it was invasive. I didn't like it. It was embarrassing. And the worst part was I didn't have a thing on me.

"And this is just taking it to the next level," said Cuff.

The Transportation Security Administration, which oversees security checkpoints at all airports, began using the machines this week at Sky Harbor International Airport. The new technology, called "backscatter," is a voluntary option in place of pat downs for airport passengers who set off traditional detectors. The federal security administration might install the machines at other airports next year if all goes well.

The technology already is in use in London.

The new X-ray machines have the capability to show a person's figure in great detail, including outlines of breasts and genitals. The advanced screenings can reveal guns, knives or explosives taped to the body.

Airport screeners can blur certain portions of the person's body to alleviate some privacy concerns.

But some travelers are still worried.

Cuff's companion, Glenda Moore, also of Jacksonville, Fla., doesn't like the images taken by the new device. She said she often gets flagged at metal detectors for ordinary things like buttons, coins and parts of clothing.

"I think it's a little bit invasive," Moore said, as she viewed full-body images taken by an early version of the new technology. "It might help security, but weighing the pros and cons, I'd say no."

"It's atrocious," said Victoria Stern, a Seattle resident who joined in a group of Yeager passengers voicing their complaints.

"Absolutely not, no way," Stern said. "What happened to privacy? Where will the photos end up?"

The TSA is attempting to juggle those kinds of concerns with the need for greater airport security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. While the backscatter technology has been around for years - it's already used in many prisons - privacy issues have kept it out of airports until now.

Duane White, 56, of Richmond, Va., said he thinks the added security such machines could bring is important, and he's willing to be scanned no matter how detailed the images are.

"All I want to do is get on the plane," White said. "I fly a lot. And it's agonizing to go through security. But what we want is just to get on that plane quickly and safely.

"If everybody gets screened, then everybody is safe," White said. "Everybody is thinking about safety up there in that plane."

Calvin Thompson of Huntsville, Ala., looked at revealing pictures of a man and a woman who had been scanned by an early version of a backscatter machine. Newer versions give screeners more opportunity to blur out a person's private parts.

"I've seen the headlines about this - that it makes a person look almost nude," Thompson said. "I'm not opposed to this. I think security is very important."

The TSA says it has worked to add software that will make the image look more like a "chalk drawing."

In addition, the machines will be out of view of the public and screeners will actually be in a different room. And there are rules - the image is to be erased as soon as the passenger clears. They are not to be printed, stored or transmitted.

That doesn't make Judith Quarles of Charlotte, N.C., any happier about it.

"No. No. No," she said emphatically. "I would not let them X-ray me with this."

Other passengers scurrying to and from flights Tuesday viewed the photos quickly and offered comments. One woman said the photos made her "very uncomfortable."

Another said she "didn't feel good about it." And one man said such security may be necessary, but "I don't like it."

Rick Atkinson, Yeager Airport manager, said the machines wouldn't be installed at Yeager in the near future. But he is in favor of eventually trying any technology that could help improve security for everyone. Between 650 and 1,000 passengers a day must pass through Yeager's checkpoints on their way to planes.

"I know, it's called the naked X-ray machine," Atkinson said Tuesday. "I've seen it demoed in Orlando, and it does sort of make a person look like a lingerie model.

"People wear clothes for a reason," he said. "Do you need every person going through that? Probably not. But exploring the technology is worthwhile."

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