Bill Press
Chicago Tribune
Saturday, January 9th, 2010

“Welcome to the Friendly Skies. Now take off all your clothes.”

Don’t laugh! In the wake of the failed terrorist attempt over Detroit on Christmas Day, it may not be long before those scary words greet you upon arriving at the airport, just before you step into the full-body scan machine.

Today, there are only 40 such machines located, and rarely used, in 19 airports across the country. But, spending $25 million in stimulus funds, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has already ordered an additional 150 for 2010, and hundreds more are in the pipeline. Once those scanners are in place, every passenger will be required to pass through one or volunteer to be personally groped in a full-body pat down.

There’s no doubt about it; full-body scanners are a gross and unnecessary invasion of privacy. By stepping into that machine, you might as well take your clothes off and parade naked around the security checkpoint.

TSA officials haughtily pooh-pooh privacy concerns. After all, they reassure us, the agent leering at your naked body is hidden away, out of sight, in a room nearby. So what? He’s still leering at your body. Or your wife’s. Or your daughter’s. In fact, in England, use of full-body scanners is considered a violation of child pornography laws, and the machines are banned for children under 18.

Not only that, adds TSA, rules prohibit agents from storing naked images of passengers or sharing them with friends. Oh, really. After their recent screw-ups in Detroit or Newark, can we really trust TSA on anything?

There’s also the question of radiation. While most experts agree the risk is low — ABC’s Lisa Stark reports that rays from a body scanner are 2,000 times less powerful than a typical chest X-ray — any amount of radiation can increase the likelihood of cancer. Which is why many doctors recommend that pregnant women and children, the most vulnerable members of the population, avoid use of the machines altogether.