San Francisco International Airport introduced a new security device Tuesday morning that can look under passengers' clothes without them doffing a stitch.
The machine takes three-dimensional scans of a person — private parts and all — but blurs out facial features for anonymity. It has replaced one traditional walk-through metal detector at the security checkpoint in the airport's international terminal.
Twenty-six airports across the country now use the $170,000 machines, which employ what's known as millimeter wave technology to produce detailed scans of passengers. SFO is one of six airports participating in a new Transportation Security Administration pilot program designed to familiarize air travelers with the high-tech devices and gauge their responses.
Passengers are not required to go through the scanning portal, which can detect nonmetal explosives. If they choose to enter it, their image is neither saved nor printed, and the TSA security officers who view it are hidden behind a frosted glass wall.
"We'll look at the number of people who go through, how much time it takes, customer feedback and impact," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.
Airport officials said they approve of the new security device.
"The airport fully supports the new technology, and this test enables the TSA to gauge passenger acceptance," said airport duty manager Chris Davison.
For some, the 9-foot chamber is straight out of a movie. Similar contraptions were depicted in the 1980 parody "Airplane!" and the 1990 film "Total Recall."
The American Civil Liberties Union has spoken out in opposition to whole-body imaging machines.
"These protections are the technological equivalent of making passengers parade naked through a separate room with a bag on their head," states the organization's Web site.