The Christmas Day attack on a jetliner over Detroit, combined with technological improvements to protect people’s sense of modesty, could lead to dramatically wider use of full-body scanners that can see through travellers’ clothing.
Dutch officials said on Wednesday they would immediately begin using the machines at Amsterdam’s airport, where the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines plane began his flight.
And a key European lawmaker also called for greater use of the scanners, which are designed to spot explosives and other non-metallic objects that a metal detector would miss.
In the U.S., the Transportation Security Administration has not said whether it will accelerate its plans to roll out the machines. TSA already operates 40 of them in U.S. airports, has bought an additional 150 and plans to buy 300 more.
That covers only a small slice of the 2,100 security lanes at the United States’ 450 airports. But TSA could find the climate more favourable for an expansion.
At least one congressman who has pushed for restrictions on full-body scanners said he would moderate his stance if the technology could better respect privacy. According to several companies that make full-body scanners, software — rather than human screeners — eventually could be capable of detecting suspicious objects on travelers’ bodies as they pass through the machines.
Body scanners that peer through clothing have been available for years, but their introduction has been slowed by objections from privacy advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has denounced the machines as a “virtual strip search” because they display the body’s contours on a computer screen with great clarity.