The Transportation Security Administration said yesterday it will beef up screening at Boston’s Logan International Airport with better X-ray machines to check carry-on bags and full-body scanners that can see through clothing to detect whether travelers are concealing objects.
The TSA plans to outfit the airport in October or November with more than one of these so-called whole-body imaging machines, which have raised privacy concerns where they have been tested. The scanners produce three-dimensional images of people’s naked bodies, but the agency says procedures have been modified to protect passenger privacy.
The technology “allows us to screen passengers for any prohibited items quickly and unobtrusively,” said George Naccara, the TSA’s federal security director for Logan. “Efficiency and effectiveness will improve with whole-body imaging.”
According to sample images shown on the TSA website, full-body scanners can display images that show details such as muscle definition. But the machines will blur passengers’ faces, which is one of the improvements the TSA has made.
“They’ve turned down the intensity a bit so some of the images under the clothes will be fuzzy,” he said. “They’ve also remotely located the person viewing the images so that person can’t associate the image with the passenger. We don’t have any capability to store or to print any of these images.”
The machines can detect nonmetallic objects hidden under clothing, such as explosives, and will replace pat downs of travelers who trigger a metal detector or are flagged as a “person of interest.”
Officials say the security enhancements aren’t in response to new threats at Logan. The Boston airport is often among the first to deploy innovative technologies, a lingering effect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which the two hijacked planes that brought down New York’s World Trade Center departed from Logan.
“Anything that can increase security over what we currently do is a marvelous thing,” said Dennis Treece, Massport’s director of corporate security. “That being said, there are privacy issues we wanted the TSA to sort out before it got here.”
The full-body scanners were first rolled out more than a year ago at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and are currently being tested at nine other airports, including New York’s John F. Kennedy, Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National, and Los Angeles International. Logan’s machines will become a permanent part of the security process at the airport, said Naccara.
The TSA has not said how many machines Logan will receive, but today an official will scout out where to put the machines. Naccara said they would most likely land at some of the larger checkpoints, which are in Terminal A with the gates for Delta Air Lines Inc. and Continental Airlines Inc. and Terminal E, the international terminal.
Sridhar Bogelli, who owns a Westford software company and travels internationally a lot, is glad Logan will get the passenger X-ray machine.
“That would make it easy, fast,” the 38-year-old said while picking up a business partner at Logan yesterday. “It’s great as long as it’s controlled and whoever’s working is capable of doing the right thing.”
But Donna Menefee, who works part time doing customer service for Delta, calls it “a horrible idea.”
“That’s basically an invasion of your privacy to see everything through your clothes,” said the 41-year-old Bostonian, who flew back from Myrtle Beach, S.C., yesterday. “We go through enough screening. Why do you have to see my body parts?”
Passengers uncomfortable with the revealing full-body scanners can ask for another option.
“You can refuse,” said Treece. But that will result in a pat down by an agent or screening with a handheld metal detector. “A lot of passengers don’t like to be touched and would prefer to just let technology do it,” he said.
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