Logan to get full-body scanning device

By Katie Johnston Chase and Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / December 29, 2009

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The Transportation Security Administration said yesterday that Boston’s Logan International Airport is among the airports slated to receive a controversial scanning machine that can detect substances hidden under clothing, potentially thwarting terrorist attacks like the near-disaster on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.

The TSA, which has 40 of the full-body scanning devices in 19 airports across the country, is planning to install 150 more next year, including one in Boston. Logan was scheduled to get two of the devices late last year, but it is unclear why they were not installed.

TSA has been testing the scanners, which produce images of people’s naked bodies with blurred facial features, since 2007. Officials said they aren’t sure what percentage of passengers at Logan would go through the device.

Logan, which yesterday was mostly quiet with lines moving briskly and some delays for international travelers, used to have a less controversial “puffer’’ scanning machine that detects traces of explosives with puffs of air, but some of the machines have been removed due to maintenance issues.

The Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, de clined to comment yesterday on security measures in use.

TSA official Ann Davis said the body-scanning machines that Logan and other airports are scheduled to get next year have proven effective in identifying threats concealed underneath clothing.

But privacy concerns led the US House over the summer to approve an amendment prohibiting the TSA from using the machines for primary screening, and requiring the TSA to instead give passengers the option of a pat-down search.

The Senate hasn’t taken up the bill.

US Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, who with New Hampshire Democrat Carol Shea-Porter cosponsored the bill curbing scanner use, is sticking by his stance that the scanners could violate a traveler’s privacy, but said of his bill: “I don’t think it’s going anywhere at this point.’’

Several travelers waiting for flights at Logan’s Terminal E said they would welcome any measure that enhances safety, even if it means giving up some privacy.

Brad Martin, who was returning home to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., after attending a funeral in Vermont, wasn’t concerned with the personal nature of the body scanning technology.

“There’s a lot of crazy people out there,’’ said the 24-year-old student. “If a couple of people want to see me naked, that’s OK with me.’’

Troy Delaplain, 28, an engineer from Colorado, was equally willing to sacrifice. “If it’s for security, I think it’s OK,’’ he said. “As long as they don’t have it for everyone to see.’’

Despite warnings that stepped-up security following the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day would mean longer lines, several security gates at Logan had no wait at all yesterday.

Passengers on domestic flights are not expected to face significant delays, if any, because of the added security, according to the TSA.

The agency did not order any additional screenings or body checks in recent days. New measures were limited to things like added law enforcement, additional bomb-sniffing dogs at checkpoints, and an increase in the number of security officers trained to detect unusual behavior.

The TSA also softened its procedures for international flights yesterday. The agency had demanded that airlines prevent passengers from using in-flight entertainment systems, leaving their seats even for the bathroom, or holding personal items on their laps for the last hour of incoming flights. The TSA said yesterday that those rules would now be enforced at the airline crews’ discretion.

Several international flights into Logan yesterday were in fact delayed. Arriving passengers said the delays appeared to be the result of additional screenings at overseas airports ordered for US-bound flights.

Passengers on one flight from Ireland said they were warned by crew members about the bathroom rule, creating a line of 10 to 15 people at the lavatory just before it went into effect.

“It’s just one of those things,’’ said Olivia Crossey, an Irish-born Boston resident who was on the flight.

To address the privacy issues raised by the new scanners, passengers have the option of not being scanned. But TSA officials said that more than 98 percent of passengers chose the full-body scan during the test phase over being patted down.

The scans are viewed remotely by a security officer who never sees the passenger. Additionally, the officer who evaluates the passenger in person never sees the scanned image. The process takes about 12 to 15 seconds.

The machines in use are manufactured by New York-based L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., whose Security and Detection Systems division is in Woburn. L-3 referred questions about the scanners to the TSA.

Some air travel analysts said the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day may lead Congress to drop its objections to the whole-body scans. The flight carrying the suspected terrorist originated in Amsterdam, which isn’t under the TSA’s authority.

Daniel Kasper, head of the transportation practice at the Cambridge office of LECG, an economic and financial consulting firm, said passengers may have to endure the “intrusive’’ devices. “Unfortunately,’’ he said. “I think we’re just going to have to live with it.’’

Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at; Noah Bierman can be reached at