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Charlotte Area News

New body scanner debuts at Charlotte airport

TSA employee viewing body scanner images.

Beginning Tuesday, passengers travelling through Charlotte-Douglas airport will have the option of a full-body scan when they pass through security. (That's checkpoint D if you're looking to try it - or avoid it.) The new scanners allow the Transportation Security Administration to detect metallic and nonmetallic threats like explosives. But the detailed images the scanners produce have also raised privacy concerns. With the new body scanner, you still have to take off your shoes, coat, belt and send everything in your pockets through the regular x-ray machine with your carry-on bag. Then x-rays bounce off your body, too, and get a look under your clothes. The image pops up on a computer screen in a locked room about 50 feet away where another security worker sits. "It allows them view the image separate from the passenger who comes to the security checkpoint, and the two never cross paths," says TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches. "The technology does not have the ability to store, save print or transmit any of the images," says Gaches. "As an additional layer of privacy there is a blur applied to the entire image." If the screener sees something suspicious, she radios a message back to the security worker at the checkpoint who might ask you to empty your pockets again or check your hip for the cell phone you forgot to remove. Theoretically you wouldn't have to go back through the scanner for a second check. Rather than assign certain passengers to go through the body scanner, Charlotte airport TSA director David Wray has decided to let passengers choose. They're welcome to stick with the traditional metal detector and pat down if they want. But Wray says the body scanners will be faster: "You know it's 20 seconds in the machine as opposed to maybe 2-3 minutes for a physical pat down." That may be the theory behind the new scanners, but Charlotte resident John Hoffman has travelled enough to be a little doubtful. "If it's gonna make it safer I'm not really opposed to it," says Hoffman. "But I don't really like the extra time it takes to get through the lines. I mean, I go through airports all the time. I usually travel twice a month. I haven't been through one yet, but it seems like those lines are longer than the regular ones." Three body scanners will be installed at the Charlotte airport this year. About 1,000 will be in airports around the country by the end of next year - at a total cost to taxpayers of more than $600 million.