In response to President Barack Obama’s recent call for an overhaul of airport security nationwide, Mayor Gavin Newsom is lobbying the federal government to install more whole-body scanning machines at the Bay Area’s busiest airport.
Newsom called security at San Francisco International Airport among the nation’s best during a news conference Wednesday, saying the hub employs pioneering technology and tactics.
“This is a secure facility,” police Chief George Gascón said.
In reaction to the Christmas Day attempt to bomb an airliner as it approached Detroit from Amsterdam, Obama said Tuesday changes will come to the nation’s airport security intelligence and systems.
At SFO on Wednesday, Newsom and airport officials did not announce any immediate changes to security procedures. The airport has yet to receive word from the feds about upcoming changes, he said.
However, the mayor took the opportunity to publicly ask the U.S. Transportation Security Administration to install whole-body scanning technology in all domestic and international security checkpoints at SFO. Some say the technology poses serious privacy issues.
SFO already has one such scanner in the International Terminal. The machine is more effective than metal detectors because it can spot nonmetallic items, including plastic and liquid explosives, the TSA said.
But the technology also offers screeners a grainy view of a passenger’s naked body, including the outlines of the genitalia. Newsom said the technology does not allow screeners to download images and it blocks out faces.
“Thousands and thousands of people have gone through [the whole-body machine] with no formal [or informal] complaints,” the mayor said.
Currently, travelers asked to use the whole-body scanner are offered the alternative choice of a pat-down by screening agents.
It should be used “as needed and as appropriate,” he said, even if it takes passengers longer to get through the screening process.
Newsom is asking the TSA to install seven more whole-body systems at SFO, but ultimately he wants 37. The feds installed 40 in 19 airports in 2008 and plan to dole out hundreds more in coming years, he said.
Airport Director John Martin announced progress on a $5 million federal grant to upgrade SFO’s security cameras. Its system has more than 1,000 cameras; a decade ago, it had 150.
Gascón said he plans to staff more officers at SFO and increase training for police at the airport.
•1992: Nation’s first biometric access control system is installed
•1996: First explosive detection device baggage scanner is purchased and installed in old International Terminal
•2000: Most technologically advanced security system of any airport in the nation is constructed in new International Terminal
•2001: International Terminal becomes world’s first to have 100 percent in-line explosive-detection systems
•2002: Baggage security is enhanced by creating central screening room
•2003: Installation of more than 1,000 high-resolution digital cameras throughout airport begins
•2003: State-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center opens
•2004: One-of-a-kind Security Control Center for use by TSA in its management of all airport security checkpoints opens
•2008: One of 19 airports to receive whole-body-imager screening system
•2009: Uses $5 million grant to enhance security camera system
Source: San Francisco International Airport