NEWS

Full Body Scanners Feature Prominently in DHS's 2012 Budget Request

By Matthew Harwood

Despite past outrage and lingering health concerns, the White House's 2012 budget proposal has requested $105.2 million to roll out and staff an additional 275 full body scanners at U.S. airports.

By the end of 2012, this funding would allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to put a total of 1,275 full body scanners in airports across the country (.pdf). Last year, the administration requested $214.7 million in fiscal year 2011 to buy and install 500 additional full body scanners in the wake of the failed underwear bomb plot of Christmas 2009, bringing the total number of units in circulation to 1,000 by year's end. 

Whether or not the DHS reaches its goal this year, however, is dependent on whether the 2011 budget gets passed, said Nicholas Kimball, press secretary for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the DHS agency responsible for aviation security. There are currently about 500 full body scanners deployed at 78 airports, according to Kimball.

Nevertheless, the budget request demonstrates that DHS will continue to invest in full body scanners in spite of a grassroots movement that sprung up just before Thanksgiving, which opposes the use of full body scanners as a primary screening method for privacy and health reasons.

Civil libertarians say the images generated by the machines constitute a virtual strip search, while some health experts worry about the ionizing radiation used by one type of full body scanner, known as a backscatter machine. DHS, however, says numerous studies have verified the safety of backscatter scans.

Acknowledging the privacy concerns associated with full body scanners, the administration's budget request (.pdf) noted that "[p]rivacy measures include maintaining anonymity between those being screened and those viewing the image and the inability to store or transmit images captured by" the machines.

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