TSA Looks at 'G-Rated' Body Scanners Amid International Security Headaches

Like other countries, TSA is using increasingly invasive security measures.

November 18, 2010, 4:00 PM

Nov. 19, 2010 — -- Critics have blasted the Transportation Security Administration for putting passengers through graphic body scanners and enhanced pat-downs -- but technology and political pressure may move American scanners in a more G-rated direction even as foreign countries are getting more invasive.

The TSA is testing new X-ray technology that will show a "stick figure" instead of a passenger's full-body image. Viewers on the other end of the X-ray would see anomalies -- anything from a suicide vest to a cell phone on a belt clip -- highlighted on the anatomically-ambiguous figure.

No images were available to illustrate what the new scan would look like.

But despite the debate over body searches and scans here in America -- illustrated by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, introducing the American Traveler Dignity Act Wednesday to protect against "physical and emotional abuse" at the hands of TSA employees -- the United States is not the only country employing unpopular security methods.

Canada installed full-body scanners at 16 major airports this past January, which also is when it started aggressive pat-downs with airport officials running hands inside pants waistbands.

Just this week, the Canadian Arab Foundation accused officials at Toronto's Pearson International Airport of racially profiling Yemini citizens and Arabs for secondary checks.

Over in Europe, London's Heathrow Airport has been using body scanners for the last eight months as part of a pilot program.

Nearby countries, security experts say, also are looking into body scanners.

"Europe is certainly looking into the way the technology is being implemented in the U.S.," said Rafi Ron, CEO of New Age Security, a security consulting firm. "I think we can expect sometime soon similar technology [will] be another European standard."

For those who think airport security in the United States is a hassle, try flying out of Tel Aviv sometime. International security experts, including guests from the U.S., were given a rare glimpse of Israel's procedures on Tuesday.

Security measures at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport are near-legendary: Unmanned vehicles secure the runway, cameras scan license plates and check them against a database of suspicious vehicles, 700 closed-circuit cameras monitor the main terminal and trash cans are bomb-proof.

Marathon of Security Hurdles in Tel Aviv

The stringent airport security is the result of a string of Palestinian attacks on Israeli planes in the 1970s.

Israel prides itself on its security, and is unapologetic about its method of profiling -- separating high-risk passengers for more detailed checks. Passengers of Arab descent or with Arab-sounding names almost always are flagged as high-risk.

"I think that the Israeli solution has been proven successful for the last 40 years," said Ron, also a former chief of security at Ben Gurion airport. "There's a very clear record of success for this risk-based policy that is implemented by Israel."

Passengers are thrown into a marathon of security hurdles in Tel Aviv. Cars are stopped at the airport perimeter gates, where high-risk passengers often get pulled over for questioning.

Once inside the terminal, passengers line up for screening by airport security staff. All passengers are asked where they come from, where they live, where they've been, who they've spoken to, and who they've met.

At that point, passengers are given a sticker with a number on it ranging from one through six; the higher the number, the higher the risk factor.

All luggage then goes through an X-ray machine while passengers pass through metal detectors. Afterwards, passengers can either proceed to their gates or they are sent to a room where officials hand-check everything in their suitcases.

Passengers that were earlier flagged as a five or six have their suitcases taken apart and swabbed, a process that could take 45 minutes.

High-risk passengers also may be led to a room for a full-body pat-down, which involves disrobing to their underwear.

Then it is off to immigration, where there is another check of hand luggage and one more pass through a metal detector.

American System More 'Humane'

For low-risk passengers, the security procedure is not much of a hassle. Josh Tapper, 23, recently travelled from New York to Israel. He said security measures in Israel are comparable with what he has experienced in the U.S.

"They're both a hassle, but one no more than the other," he said.

However, Tapper added that passengers who are not obviously Jewish or look Arab face much tougher security.

That type of passenger might include Daoud Kuttab, 55, who travels frequently between Europe, the U.S. and Amman, Jordan. The director of a media non-governmental organization avoids Tel Aviv's airport whenever possible.

Kuttab said there is no comparison between security in Israel and that in the U.S.

"I think the American system is much more scientific, much more logical," said Kuttab. "It's not even an argument for me. The U.S. system, while with its problems, is much more humane and logical and non-intrusive."

According to Ron, the security consultant and former Tel Aviv security chief, Israel is thinking of adding a more scientific approach to its security methods. He said Ben Gurion Airport has started using body scanners, but has not yet included them in standard procedure.

Back in the U.S., the TSA may want to go G-rated with its full-body scans, but the technology isn't there yet.

In a Senate hearing Wednesday, TSA administrator John Pistole said the new scanners are generating too many false positives. Therefore, the TSA is hesitant to confirm a rollout date, though Boston's TSA security director, George Naccara, told a local paper that Logan International Airport is set to be the first to get the new "stick figure" scanners by late winter.

ABC News' Matt Hosford in Washington and Simon McGregor-Wood in Jerusalem, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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