WASHINGTON – The first of 150 full-body scanners planned for U.S. airports will be installed in Boston next week, officials said Tuesday.
The plan is to install three machines at Logan International Airport, according to a homeland security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement has not yet been made. In the next two weeks, officials plan to install another machine at Chicago's O'Hare International.
The rest of the 150 machines that were purchased with $25 million from President Barack Obama's 2009 stimulus plan are expected to be installed in airports by the end of June, another homeland security official, spokeswoman Amy Kudwa, said.
The use of the scanners in airports is key to the Obama administration's plans to improve airport security because of their ability to show objects hidden on the body. Body scanners have been available for years, but their deployment has been slowed by objections from privacy advocates.
After a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner last Christmas, Obama called for purchasing hundreds more of the machines on top of 150 already announced last year. Other countries have also signed on to use the technology, including Nigeria and the Netherlands, where the final leg of the man's flight originated.
The passenger allegedly hid the explosives in his underwear, and the materials went undetected as he went through screening in Nigeria and Amsterdam.
Experts have said that the full-body screeners would not have picked up the suspect's hidden explosives.
The machines show the body's contours on a computer stationed in a private room removed from the security checkpoints. A person's face is never shown and the person's identity is supposedly not known to the screener reviewing the computer images.
Still, the American Civil Liberties Union has denounced the machines as a "virtual strip search."
The new scanners have not been available since the Obama administration announced last February it would provide $1 billion for airport screening as part of its stimulus plan.
In May, the administration detailed how that money would be spent — including $25 million for the new scanners. Between May and September, the department asked contractors to provide proposals for building the scanners.
Competing models were tested over the summer, the homeland security official said.
The department awarded the contract to California-based Rapiscan at the end of September.
In the past five months, airports and the Transportation Security Administration worked to get construction and electrical permits necessary to install the machines.
Boston and Chicago were selected based on risk, the official said, and whether the airports were physically able to install the machines and provide screeners to operate them.
Currently 40 full-body scanners are operated in 19 airports across the country, official said. Six of those machines are being used instead of the standard magnetometer screening machines that most U.S. passengers go through before boarding an airplane.