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Private Body Piercings No Secret to Whole Body Imaging Security X-Ray Scanners

Backscatter X-Ray Machines Being Implented in Several Airports

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It used to be a cartoon-style joke on tv: a person would walk behind a black x-ray panel and you could immediately see right through them and view all of their bones. Even more absurd were the x-ray glasses that allowed the wearer to see someone's birthday suit through their clothing. Well, thanks to the Backscatter Security X-Ray machine, that idea isn't so crazy anymore.

"Whole Body Imaging" has been getting rave reviews from airport security personnel and understandably so. The high-tech machines enable them to detect any hidden objects a person may have on them as they pass through the scanner. But the general public isn't giving the technology such a warm reception, and some feel downright violated by the very idea.

Backscatter actually displays a "chalk outline" image of the person in the scanner, and displays hidden objects (such as guns, knives, dangerous liquids, drugs, etc.) as distortions in the image, much like a normal x-ray. But the high powered scans show details of the outer body including genitalia and private accessories such as breast implants and body piercings. Even fat creases don't escape the scrutiny; your entire body is on display for the security personnel when you step through the backscatter machine.

I've gotten many emails in the past from readers who were concerned about their body piercings being exposed by the normal metal detecting scanners currently used in most airports. It could be a potentially mortifying experience having your private body matters "outed" in public by a security machine. Fortunately, that's not usually an issue with security metal detectors. But with Whole Body Imaging, all of your body piercings will be visible in the scan, which is inspected by the security personnel (screeners). That's even worse than having a wand beep as it passes over your nipple rings, right?

Maybe not. Actually, from what I understand, this is the usual scenario when airport security uses backscatter: First of all, the person in charge of sending a passenger through the scanner indicates to the screeners whether it's a man or a woman, so only a female screener inspects female passengers while a male screener inspects the men. Secondly, the screening monitors are not supposed to be visible to other passengers or passers-by. Faces are supposed to be blurred and the distance between the passengers and the screening area is supposed to be enough that face-to-body comparisons can't be made. That's a lot of "supposed tos" and a lot of things could potentially be mishandled, but that's the plan anyway.

If that's the way it actually works, then your body piercings will only be viewed for a few seconds by a screener, who will not know which body the piercings actually belong to, and there's absolutely no chance of setting off an alarm just because of the metal. Your fellow passengers and/or traveling companions need never know about your accessories and your privacy, while in one way is somewhat invaded, is also protected at the same time.

Only a handful of airports have implemented the use of Whole Body Imaging, and at least for right now it's optional; you can choose the traditional metal detector method if you prefer. But as more TSA departments adopt this new technology, it may eventually become the only option if you want to fly. There's always a price to pay for peace of mind, but does backscatter go too far? Or is it the best way to keep the skies safe from terrorists? Please share your thoughts on the message board.

Learn More About Backscatter:

England Airport Tests "Naked" X-Ray Machine

X-Rated X-Rays Get the Go-Ahead

Latest News on Backscatter Airport Use

FAQ About Backscatter X-Ray

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