At the heart of the uproar over full-body scans is that people are creeped out by the idea that a stranger would see a picture of them naked, much less that those images would be recorded and stored somewhere.
A noted nuclear scientist affiliated with the prestigiousÂ Lawrence Livermore NationalÂ Laboratory in California says that a relatively inexpensive and simple tweak could be made to body scanners that would assuage passengers' anxiety.
The technology - a tool that could be added without much fuss to 385 body scanners in 68 U.S. airports - would automatically distort the body's image so that something almost cartoon-like would be produced, said Bill Wattenburg, a former member of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and a University of California Berkeley electrical engineering professor. He has designed anti-terror devices that the U.S. military uses - imaging that can see around walls, for example.
WattenburgÂ said he spoke with U.S.Â Department of Homeland Security officials in 2006 about the tool butÂ the talksÂ went nowhere. "We tried, we really did, anticipating that this kind ofÂ embarrassment people are feeling would eventually be heard. ButÂ no one listened," he said.
Wattenburg supports the use of scanners, calling them an "essential" tool to fight terrorism, even if only as a deterrent.
"But there is also no reason to have these erotic pictures of people's bodies," he said. "A scanner is still going to find an object whether or not the machine spits out a real-life picture orÂ it spits out a funny, fun-mirror image of what it has scanned."
The Washington Post first reported on Wattenburg's claim in a recent story. TSA spokesman Nick Kimball told the newspaper that he could not immediately confirm Wattenburg's 2006 conversation with federal officials. "That was another administration," the Post quoted Kimball.
Reports across the country regarding scannersÂ haveÂ discussed other body-analyzing technology. The Seattle Times reported that Amsterdam's Schiphol AirportÂ usesÂ scanners that can detect metallic and non-metallic materials such as explosives, gels, powders and liquids.Â Read more in here.
Tangential to the body scanning debate is whether the machines are effective, meaning not whether they detect anything but whether they detect everything, experts say.
For example, current scanner technology cannot detect a body cavity bomb or objects hiddenÂ deeperÂ one-tenth of an inch below skin level, according to CNN reporting. Watch a report by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the scanners.