As terrorism protection increasingly becomes a partisan issue, both houses of Congress plan hearings into airport security gaps that might have allowed a man to bring an explosive device onto a plane on Christmas Day. One issue will be the failure to use new scanning equipment that can help detect explosive devices hidden on a passenger’s body, says National Public Radio. The equipment is designed to produce full-body images of airline passengers and anything they might be trying to hide.
Legislators have been reluctant to deploy the machines. In June, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to restrict their use. The vote was big – 310-118 – and bipartisan. Members of both parties said they were concerned that the pictures were too intrusive and questioned their effectiveness. That’s what also worries privacy groups, which have mounted a major campaign against the machines, now being tested at 19 U-S airports. “There’s nothing to prevent images from being retained even when they say they won’t be retained,” says Lillie Coney of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. She says it’s not clear whether, in fact, the machines can stop a determined terrorist. Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff rejects critics’ charges that the devices perform a virtual strip search. “Of course, it’s not a strip search,” he says. “They minimize the fact that we have a program in place so that we don’t maintain the images. Once the image is seen, it’s discarded and they simply dismiss that.” Chertoff says the machines are crucial because existing metal detectors can’t pick up dangerous explosives.