Revealing reactions at LAX

By Art Marroquin, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 05/11/2008 10:05:51 PM PDT

A passenger at LAX enters the millimeter wave scanning system, which takes a digital image that can see through clothing. Although some worry about privcy, the TSA says the "backscatter" system adds another layer of security for passengers. May 9, 2008. Photo by Steve McCrank. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
By Art Marroquin

Staff Writer

Bob Byfield slipped off his shoes and placed his belongings into a large plastic bin after getting picked for a secondary screening at Los Angeles International Airport.

The Australia native walked up to a machine that resembles a temporary billboard and raised his arms above his head.

The Transportation Security Administration's new Backscatter machine emitted a low intensity X-ray beam that scanned Byfield's body twice, searching for hidden weapons or explosives.

The X-ray beam - which emits radiation no stronger than 15 minutes of sunlight - produces a revealing picture that looks like an extremely detailed chalk outline of a person's body.

Just a few hundred yards away, a security screener viewed the intimate image from a locked room. The TSA agent saw nothing suspicious and cleared Byfield to board his flight to Las Vegas.

The thought of a complete stranger viewing detailed outlines of his body didn't bother Byfield, who was planning a lengthy trip through the United States and Canada.

"I have nothing to hide at my age," Byfield said with a laugh.

"Even though there are people who do nothing wrong, there are plenty of people out there who really are dangerous," he said. "So I guess it's a good thing that they can see right through your clothes."




the kind of reaction the TSA hopes to garner from airline passengers as the agency steps up efforts to heighten security at the nation's airports. Travelers pulled aside for a secondary screening can opt to use the machines, or get patted down by TSA agents.
A pair of the TSA's Backscatter machines were installed recently in Terminals 4 and 6 at LAX, nearly a year after the technology was first introduced at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Authorities hope to roll out more Backscatter machines at other airports through the rest of the year, according to Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman.

"This technology gives us an opportunity to see things that we haven't been able to see before," Melendez said.

But those hoping to catch a cheap glance at a person's anatomy should look elsewhere, Melendez said.

"It allows us to see suspicious items," he said. "And not much more than that."

To ensure privacy, images produced by both machines cannot be saved and are immediately deleted after the passenger is cleared. TSA security screeners viewing the images stay in a locked, enclosed room about 200 yards away from the machines. They are stripped of cell phones and other personal belongings to ensure the revealing images are not copied, Melendez said.

In Terminal 5, Lisa Sheridan of Silver Lake was called over to use the TSA's Millimeter Wave Whole Imaging Body System, which was also introduced at LAX last month.

Sheridan quietly stepped into the machine, which resembles a roomy phone booth. She raised her arms as two antennae rotated around her, emitting beams of harmless radio energy.

Sheridan turned to her left and stretched her arms in front of her as the machine snapped a second shot that was relayed to a security screener locked in a room about 200 yards away.

The Millimeter Wave machine produces a black-and-white image that makes the passenger look like a futuristic robot, detailing the outline of every curve.

A TSA agent spotted a suspicious metallic object in Sheridan's back pocket.

"Oh, I forgot about that," Sheridan told a security screener as she pulled out a nickel and a couple of bobby pins.

"It was unnerving," Sheridan said of the experience. "It's not a pleasant image to have in your head that there's someone in another room looking through your clothes."

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