November 23rd, 2010
02:17 PM ET

If not body scans, what other technology?

A passenger at Schiphol airport in December 2009 going through a full-body scanner.

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 prestigious Lawrence Livermore National 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.

Wattenburg said he spoke with U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials in 2006 about the tool but the talks went nowhere. "We tried, we really did, anticipating that this kind of embarrassment people are feeling would eventually be heard. But 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 or 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 scanners have discussed other body-analyzing technology. The Seattle Times reported that Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport uses scanners that can detect metallic and non-metallic materials such as explosives, gels, powders and liquids. 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 hidden deeper one-tenth of an inch below skin level, according to CNN reporting. Watch a report by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the scanners.

soundoff (72 Responses)
  1. Sgt.Slaughter2

    *A clip* sorry I'm on my 15th Busch Light already.

    November 23, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joyce M. Simmerman

    A suggestion has been made that all issues would be solved IF there were simply an examination booth which could double as a safe-detonator booth where the individual would be aware that the persons scanning would be able to push the detonator to set off whatever the dangerous packet, or whatever object the person was carrying with them right there with it .. thus effectively detonating any such "junk". There would be no due process required IF required to detonate, since even a suicide bomber would have "consented" to such search and detonation ... Terrorists beware .. Innocent travelers need not endure anything more than a walk-through and a safe trip!

    November 23, 2010 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. emmanuel

    when you sick,you go to the Doctor's,no problem you get checked,test for mamagram,prostrate,blood in stool they have to inscert finger in your rectum to extract the fieces.I let rather get checked and know that i am not going blown appart 30,000ft above the sea level
    and end as fish food on atlantic occean than complaining about seeing me naked,all in all,"i was borne naked" get over it. the terorist were happy seeing all this bruhaha.

    November 24, 2010 at 1:14 am | Report abuse |
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