A trial in ‘virtual strip search’ scanning is being rolled out to major US airports, raising the possibility of pat-down security frisks being phased out and a less hands-on but more revealing procedure coming in.
Following successful trialling at Phoenix Sky-Harbor International Airport since October – where no formal passenger complaints have been lodged – the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is bringing millimetre wave technology scanners to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and New York’s JFK.
TSA administrator Kip Hawley said: "The use of whole body imaging is a significant step forward in checkpoint technology. By expanding the use of millimetre wave, we are providing our officers with another tool to enhance security and protect the public from evolving threats."
While civil liberties groups have sounded the alarm over the legality of the ‘near-naked’ scan images, some 90 per cent of passengers in the Phoenix trial chose the scan over a traditional pat-down, making it possible for the TSA to roll out millimetre wave as an optional secondary device at JFK and as random continuous protocol at LAX.
The move toward ‘virtual strip search’ comes as the debate heats up over biometrics: calls have been made for airlines to bolster exit security by taking fingerprints from travellers leaving the US as well as entering it, with the International Air Transport Association defining the measure as a responsibility of the US government and not airlines.
London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 was set to bring airport entry fingerprinting to the UK, but data protection concerns saw the measure delayed, leaving BAA to plan its wider implementation if and when legal concerns are ironed out.