Americans: Bring on the Body Scanners, Poll Says
(Jan. 11) -- A majority of the nation's air travelers say they're willing to "digitally undress" for airport full-body scanners if it means preventing terrorists from carrying explosives onto airplanes.
In a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, 78 percent of respondents approve of the use of state-of-the-art scanners at airport security checkpoints, with 67 percent saying they would be willing to submit to a scan. According to 84 percent of the 542 adults polled, the scanners would deter terrorists from carrying hidden explosives onto airplanes. (The survey, taken on Jan. 5 and 6, targeted people who have flown at least twice in the past year.)
The poll results come as welcome news to the Transportation Security Administration, which hopes to replace metal detectors and implement 300 full-body scanners, or "millimeter-wave scanners," at the nation's largest airports this year. The machines are already in use at 19 airports, including San Francisco, Miami and Las Vegas.
TSA acting Administrator Gale Rossides told USA Today the poll results "demonstrate public understanding" of the need to use the scanners, which digitally screen passengers' bodies to search for liquid or powder explosives that may not trigger traditional metal detectors.
However, privacy advocates like the American Civil Liberties Union have likened the scans to "virtual strip searches" that compromise passenger privacy and even raise questions about child pornography laws.
"This technology involves a striking and direct invasion of privacy," the ACLU writes on its Web site. "It produces strikingly graphic images of passengers' bodies, essentially taking a naked picture of air passengers as they pass through security checkpoints."
Many respondents to the USA Today/Gallup poll either don't share those concerns or are willing to set them aside in the name of safety. In fact, most respondents said the intimate images captured by the scanners are less intrusive than a pat-down by a security screener. Only 22 percent said they would prefer a pat-down to a scan.
It is unclear whether those polled were comforted by the TSA's assurances that scanners instantly delete their intimate snapshots, but the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center accuses the TSA of misleading the public. Documents obtained by EPIC and shared with CNN specify that "the screeners must have the ability to store and send images when in 'test mode.' "
The privacy vs. protection debate was renewed on Dec. 25, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, allegedly carrying undetected explosives sewn into his underpants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has since pushed for more accelerated implementation of whole-body imaging machines, despite their approximate $250,000-per-scanner price tag.
Most respondents to the USA Today/Gallup poll say their support of the full-body scanners is not a result of the Abdulmutallab incident. Only 22 percent are more concerned about air safety since the alleged plot.