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Fliers at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport shrug at new scanner

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Airline passengers barely blinked at using a new security scanning system this past week that essentially lets guards peer beneath their clothes, a spokeswoman for Amsterdam’s airport said.

“People figure, ‘If this is going to let me get through the lines quicker, then I’ll do it,’ ” spokeswoman Miriam Snoerwang said.

The “millimeter wave” technology system being tested at Schiphol Airport as part of anti-terrorism efforts is under consideration for use in the United States by the Department of Homeland Security.

It differs from the “backscatter” system being tested at some airports in that it uses low-energy radio waves, rather than high-energy X-rays, to create a dim outline of a passenger’s body.

Both systems allow guards to see any suspicious objects, such as a gun, that may be concealed under a passenger’s clothes.

Faces are blurred, but not chests or crotches. Snoerwang said that was necessary because otherwise “women could just hide things by stuffing them in their bras.”

The two machines now being used at Schiphol, one of Europe’s busiest airports, were made by SafeView, an arm of New York-based L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. If things go well, the airport expects to expand to 17 machines this year.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called both systems a “virtual strip-search” but has filed no legal complaints against them.

Passengers were given a brochure explaining how the machine works, but Snoerwang said there were no objections about the sacrifice of privacy for security since the machines were opened for public use Tuesday.

Some female flight attendants, in particular, wanted a fuller explanation of exactly how much the images revealed, she said.

The guard who sees the image does not physically see the person being scanned. If a passenger is approved, the guard signals to his colleagues.

Snoerwang said the images were not like photographs.

“They’re kind of futuristic. There’s nothing sexy about it,” she said.
– Source: AP, via, May 20, 2007

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This post was last updated: Sep. 25, 2011