New screening machine at SFO

March 2, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The next time you fly out of SFO, expect a very different airport security experience. A new see-through screening machine will give agents a much closer look at you, maybe closer than you're comfortable with.

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"And you want to be as still as possible for about 30 seconds," said a TSA worker.

You have to be still while someone looks at you --all of you.

"I don't know if I feel comfortable knowing they're looking at everything on me," says Sarah McGee, from Vallejo.

This new whole body imager can see underneath your clothes. Federal transportation officials want to know if you're hiding something metal detectors can't find.

"Obviously a lot of components of improvised explosive devices can be non-metallic items which would make it harder to find if it's hidden on a person," says Nico Melendez, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman.

And they don't want that getting on to the plane. So they're trying out this new machine. It will replace the metal detectors at a security checkpoint in SFO's International terminal for two weeks.

The American Civil Liberties Union calls these machines virtual strip searches that assault the dignity of passengers. So here's how they answer the privacy issue. When a passenger is in the machine getting scanned, the person looking at the image of the passenger's body is in a booth surrounded by frosted glass, so they never see the passenger's face.

"We can't transmit, we don't take photos in there, the image is gone once we're done with it, so we think we've taken care of the all the privacy issues and think it's a real safe bet for passengers," says Melendez.

It's certainly makes things easier for Donald Smith, whose artificial knee sets off the metal detector every time.

"The worst place it happened was in Jordan where they strip searched me," says Smith.

With the body imager they'll know the metal is in his knee because they can see it. The machine would eliminate the awkward pat down searches.

"It's safety first everything else last," says Howard Hunter, from Long Beach.

Officials won't allow anyone to take pictures of the body scanner. ABC7 was allowed to only for this story because the man being scanned was working with transportation officials. His face was also blurred out.

However, if you don't feel comfortable with the machine, this is just a trial run and you can still ask to be scanned the old fashioned way.

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