Feds Deploy "Peeping Tom" X-ray Machines


source:http://www.newsmax.com/articles/?a=2000/3/8/175020

NewsMax.com Staff
March 9, 2000
At six major airports around the country the federal government is currently using highly sensitive X-ray machines that can view a person naked – including revealing private body parts. The Customs Service claims they are using the X-ray devices to help root out suspected drug smugglers. Customs Service officials said they use the "Peeping Tom" machines only with travelers they consider possible drug smugglers.

Not all suspects are examined by the machine – only suspects who don’t want to be frisked. Frisking typically includes a hands-on "pat down” of the person, a "strip search” – removal of a person’s clothing for inspection – or a more intrusive body cavity search.

"This technology will allow Customs to offer passengers an alternative, non-intrusive search method," explained Raymond Kelly, commissioner of United States Customs, last year when the machines were first introduced at U.S. airports.

The use of the new machines, called "BodySearch," has privacy advocates reeling.

"It’s an electronic strip search, and its extremely graphic,” Barry Steinhardt told the Wall Street Journal. Steinhardt is associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The federal government says they are placing strict limits on the usage of the machines – and hope they will reduce the rising number of complaints from travelers about physical body searches. Customs has been sued numerous times over its body searches – and a group of African-American women in Chicago have filed a class action suit against the agency for racial profiling.

Critics of the new machines also fear the machines will be rampantly abused.

Already Mexican authorities have been widely – and covertly – using BodySearch to catch drug smugglers. The Journal reports that one African leader uses the BodySearch X-ray without the consent of visitors to see if they have concealed weapons.

American Science & Technology, a Massachusetts firm that makes BodySearch, touts the machine's use for "correctional facilities, VIP security, border crossings and force protection.”

BodySearch creates a permanent image that can be transferred from the X-ray machine, prompting fears that some employees may save the images of naked people – including celebrities – and hawk them to magazines or publish them over the Internet.

Customs officials have already deployed the machines at JFK Airport in New York, Miami International, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Atlanta’s Hartsdale Airport, Houston Intercontinental and Los Angeles Airport. Customs says they plan to expand the use of the BodySearch machines to as many as 20 major airports in the near future.

Previously the Federal Aviation Administration considered using the BodySearch machines for all airport travelers, but decided against its deployment for the time being because of the explicit nature of the images.


U.S. Customs Press Release Re: Body Search

July 29, 1999
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Customs Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced that new BodySearch systems will be installed at six international airports around the country over the next six months. The BodySearch is cutting-edge technology that will allow Customs inspectors to see if a passenger may be concealing contraband without subjecting the person to a personal search. The machines will be installed at the Los Angeles International Airport; Hartsfield, Ga., International Airport; Newark International Airport; JFK International Airport; Houston Intercontinental Airport; and Washington Dulles International Airport.

"This technology will allow Customs to offer passengers an alternative nonintrusive search method," said Kelly. "This is an important step in our efforts to improve our personal search process for passengers and inspectors alike."

The BodySearch system is a body imaging machine that uses the same X-ray backscatter technology that is employed in the inspection of baggage and cargo. However, the X-ray strength of the BodySearch is low enough that it is not harmful to the passenger being examined and is comparable to the amount of radiation received on a two-hour plane flight. It can detect both metallic and organic material that may be concealed on the body, underneath clothing and hidden from external view.

"We tested these machines at JFK International Airport and they proved to be an effective tool," Kelly said. "It is critical that we balance our need to stop drugs at the border, with our duty to perform our jobs in a civil, respectful manner."

In fiscal year 1998, Customs seized 2,953 pounds of heroin. About 64 percent or 1,882 pounds were seized from commercial air passengers.



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