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With full-body X-ray, a closer look at air travelers

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Most passengers asked to submit to a full-body X-ray at Security Checkpoint B didn't bat an eyelash. Nine in 10 gamely stepped up to a scanner about the size of a vending machine, placed their feet on the red footprints painted on the carpet, and raised their arms – all in the name of airport security.

The aim of the new technology unveiled Friday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport: to allow officials to detect weapons – such as plastic explosives strapped to the body – that metal detectors and other security measures might miss.

A potential sticking point is that this machine, known as a backscatter, can see through clothes. Its deployment at the Phoenix airport is a test to see how well it works – and to assess how air travelers respond to its use. If passengers at Terminal 4 who were asked to undergo body scans are an indication, security trumps privacy.

"Sure, I'd be happy to do it," said Ella Adams from Atlanta, who had stopped in Phoenix on Friday to catch a connecting flight to San Diego. "Privacy to me isn't nearly as important as our security, especially if they assure me the X-rays aren't harmful."

In all, the Phoenix airport has seven security checkpoints, and the body- scanning machine has been installed for this pilot program at just one. About 8,000 travelers a day move through this checkpoint, says Paul Armes, security director at Sky Harbor for the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The backscatter will not be used for everyone who passes this way, at least not at first. A traveler would have to have set off alarms on the routine metal detector, or be randomly selected for further screening. Even then, travelers have two options: the new X-ray machine, or a pat-down, which has caused passenger complaints about invasiveness.

What the backscatter 'sees'

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