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Airport body scanners optional in U.S.

Airport body scanners optional in U.S.
TSA personnel demonstrate the a new backscatter imaging device at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on March 15, 2010. O'Hare is the second airport to receive one of the 150 backscatter units purchased in 2009 with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. UPI/Brian Kersey | License Photo

WASHINGTON, June 22 (UPI) -- The United States offers privacy protection alternatives to airport full body scanners, while European countries, such as England, do not, officials said.

Mary Ellen Callahan, supervisor of privacy and data protection at the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, said Monday the United States uses full body scanners under strict privacy provisions, as it is mindful of the potential for misuse, the EUobserver reported.

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"There is more privacy protection in place in the U.S. than in Europe, because we embedded those provisions before rolling out the system," said Callahan.

The scanners are controversial because they take accurate naked images of the body in order to detect plastics, liquids, or metals hidden under a traveler's clothing, the EUobserver reported.

The scanners are becoming increasingly common in large airports such as Chicago's O'Hares International, London's Heathrow, and Amsterdam's Schiphol.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration purchased 150 scanners in September for approximately $24 million. It plans to buy 300 more machines this year and 500 in 2011, the newspaper reported.

Callahan said a pat-down search is always an alternative option to scanners, and that the officer viewing scanned images is in a separate room and doesn't actually see the passenger.

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In Britain, however, there are no pat-down options, and the scanning official stands next to the person being scanned, the EUoserver said, adding that this gives rise to abuse.

In March, two Muslim women refused to comply with the scanner requirement and were not permitted to board a plane, the EUobserver said.

An Indian actor said his image was recorded and circulated by female security officials who requested an autograph.

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