Delicate Balance: Airline Security vs. Personal Privacy

Invasive body scanning could make flying safer but at what cost?

ByABC News via logo
December 27, 2009, 2:29 PM

Dec. 28, 2009 — -- Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said today the country "can't be static" when it comes to protecting travelers from attacks such as the attempted bombing of a Christmas Day flight, but some new security measures are raising questions about the delicate balance between safety and personal privacy.

"[The attack] is certainly not something we want to have happen again," Napolitano told "Good Morning America."

"That's why we're looking at that technology, why we're employing new technology. ... This is an ever-changing environment we're dealing with. We can't be static."

Napolitano's comments came days after a Nigerian man was arrested for igniting a small explosion on a Northwest Airline flight bound for Detroit Friday. The man, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly sneaked the explosives through security in his underwear.

The incident prompted the Transportation Security Administration to announce heightened security guidelines for passengers Sunday that included more full-body pat downs, secondary screenings and additional rules onboard the plane.

Click here to see the TSA's new guidelines for passengers.

While the new measures could be a headache for the millions of expected travelers this holiday season, new body-imaging scanners that are already in some airports continue to draw criticism from those who believe the detailed scans are an invasion of privacy.

Napolitano said officials are working "at lightning speed" to integrate new technology in the battle for airport security. As part of that initiative, the TSA previously ordered 150 new full-body scanners that, unlike metal detectors, scan for a range of substances and produce a detailed scan of the passenger's body.

While the Constitution protects the people from "unreasonable searches," some experts are debating where to draw the line. The devices are designed to pick up illicit and potentially dangerous materials but they also show private details of a traveler's body such as breast implants or prosthetic devices.