The x-ray technology -- dubbed "backscatter" -- has been around for several years, but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns. However, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said it has found a way to refine the machine's images so that the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective in detecting bombs and other threats.
TSA indicated that one machine will be operational at the Sky Harbor airport by Christmas.
TSA's website says that the backscatter technology will initially be used as a secondary screening measure. This means that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the backscatter area for further screening.
Additionally, the TSA indicated that a handful of other U.S. airports will have the backscatter machines in place by early 2007 as part of a nationwide pilot program. The TSA was quick to add that the technology already is being used in prisons and by drug enforcement agents -- and it's been tested at London's Heathrow Airport.
Backscatter machines will be effective in helping detect plastic or liquid explosives and other non-metallic weapons that can be missed by standard metal detectors, although passengers will have the choice between standard pat-down searches or the new backscatter searches, if further screening is required.
There are some that are not convinced that the high-resolution images -- which clearly depict the outline of the passenger's body and anything attached to it -- are not invasive to passengers. However, the TSA has said that the backscatter x-rays will be set up so that the image can only be viewed by a security officer in a remote location.