I am looking at a copy of an ad that ran in the back of comic books in the 1950s and early 1960s.
"X-Ray Specs! See Thru Clothing!" blares the copy, which is illustrated with a cartoon of a drooling geek wearing the amazing toy goggles and leering at a shapely woman.
Now, any kid with half a brain knew that X-Ray Specs were a novelty gag that didn't really work. But time marches on and technology makes the impossible possible. Stand by, air travelers, because the Homeland Security Department is preparing to install and test high-tech machines at airport checkpoints that will, as the comic-book ads promised, "See Thru Clothing!"
Get ready for electronic portals known as backscatters, expected to be tested at a handful of airports this year, that use X-ray imaging technology to allow a screener to scan a body. And yes, the body image is detailed. Let's not be coy here, ladies and gentlemen:
"Well, you'll see basically everything," said Bill Scannell, a privacy advocate and technology consultant. "It shows nipples. It shows the clear outline of genitals."
The Homeland Security Department's justification for the electronic strip searches has a certain logic. In field test after field test, it found that federal airport screeners using metal-detecting magnetometers did a miserable job identifying weapons concealed in carry-on bags or on the bodies of undercover agents.
In a clumsy response late last year, the department instituted intrusive pat-downs at checkpoints after two planes in Russia blew up from nonmetallic explosives that had apparently been smuggled into the aircraft by female Chechen terrorists. But it reduced the pat-downs after passengers erupted in outrage at the groping last December