Daily Herald
Full-body scanners coming to O'Hare airport
By Matt Arado | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 12/29/2009 12:10 PM | Updated: 12/29/2009 6:46 PM

Full-body scanners will come to O'Hare International Airport in 2010, though aviation officials could not say exactly when.

Rosemarie S. Andolino, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation, was asked about the scanners Tuesday during a briefing with reporters on security measures at O'Hare and Midway airports.

She said the department is working with the federal Transportation Security Administration on the scanners, saying they could be installed at O'Hare during the first half of next year. She didn't know how many machines would be installed. Right now, neither airport uses them.

Debate about the scanners, which are now in use in at least 19 U.S. airports, has heated up since the Christmas Day attempt to blow up a jetliner in Detroit. Advocates say the scanners, which reveal the contours of a person's body with embarrassing clarity, would help prevent such attempts in the future. Critics object to the technology on grounds of personal privacy.

The suspect in the attempted bombing, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab of Nigeria, reportedly tried to ignite powder explosives hidden in his clothing as the Northwest Airlines jet was landing. He did not go through a scanner before boarding the plane in Amsterdam.

A full-body scanner "could have been helpful in this case, absolutely," said Evert van Zwol, head of the Dutch Pilots Association. Jay Stanley, public education director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Technology and Liberty Program, said the machines essentially perform "virtual strip-searches that see through your clothing and reveal the size and shape of your body."

Passengers enter a narrow passage in the body-scanning machine and stop with legs apart and arms out for a scan that takes 15 to 30 seconds. Contraband shows up clearly on the screen of the operator, who is in an enclosed room and not seen by the passenger, TSA has said.

Andolino did not announce any major changes in procedure during Tuesday's briefing, which took place at O'Hare. Security has been increased at both airports since the Christmas bombing attempt, with more bomb-sniffing dogs on hand and extra screenings taking place for domestic flights.

TSA officials have asked travelers, particularly those on international flights, to allow extra time for security checks. Andolino said she believes the increases in security have not been unduly burdensome on travelers so far, and asked for patience in the future.

"(Airline passengers) understand that the security is something that protects our airport and them as the traveler," she said. "Americans overall have developed somewhat of a patience for the security process at airports. And we need to do everything we can to make it more of a friendly one."

Andolino also reminded travelers to be vigilant as they move through airports, and to report any suspicious activity they see.

More than 1.5 million passengers are expected to travel through Midway and O'Hare airports from Tuesday through Jan. 4, officials said.

ABC 7 Chicago and Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.