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Sanders calls for body scanners at Queens airports

The attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack in Detroit has sparked calls from elected officials to bring high-tech body scanners to LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.

Although there are no immediate plans to install the controversial devices at the Queens airports, according to the Port Authority, leaders have said the scanners are necessary to protect flyers.

City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), whose district includes JFK, said he used to be opposed to the full-body image scanners used at some airports in the country because of the devices’ invasion of privacy. But after a suspected al Qaeda terrorist nearly detonated a plastic bomb hidden in his underwear on a Northwest Airlines flight from Africa to Detroit last month, the councilman said his reservations may be moot.

“I think we don’t have a choice. The terrorists have already shown that they are probing us and New York is already target No. 1,” he said.

The scanners, which are in place in Schipol Airport in the Netherlands and are set to be introduced at Heathrow Airport in England later in the month, work by using computer and multiwave technology to quickly examine a passenger’s entire body for metals, weapons and other contraband. The machines, which cost as much as $170,000 apiece, have been criticized by groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, since they create a 3-D computer-generated image of the passenger that displays the person’s body shape and private parts.

Sanders, a former Marine who tested military equipment, said he was concerned about privacy issues but said future upgrades and reassurances from the federal government could alleviate concerns.

“We still have things to work out. We have to find a way where they are not intrusive,” he said.

Other elected officials have joined in support of the machines and called for tighter security around the world’s airports.

The office of U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Astoria) said the congressman supports the devices and any upgrades to area airports.

“Congressman Crowley strongly supports the administration’s efforts to reassess and re-evaluate our airline screening and safety protocols, and he believes measures should be put in place to ensure more thorough searches of passengers,” a senior adviser to the congressman said.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the international community also needed to step up their air security and said U.S. airlines should stop flying to overseas airports that do not meet U.S. security standards.

The U.S. Transportation Security Agency has 40 body scanning machines at 19 American airports and it is slated to install 150 at other airports sometime earlier this year, according to a spokeswoman. The TSA has not said which of the airports are being chosen for the devices and insisted that the scanners do not pose a privacy risk.

“They prove very effective in detecting concealed items under clothing,” TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said.

The Port Authority said there were no current plans for body scanners to be installed at JFK or LaGuardia terminals, but it would welcome having the latest security technology.

“One of the Port Authority’s concerns is the safety and security of our passengers. Anything that can keep them safe and secure, we’re all for it,” PA spokesman John Kelly said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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