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Published: Wednesday, 2/17/2010

Scan everyone

AIRPORT security has been a hassle since 9/11. Thousands of harmless items are routinely confiscated from passengers every year. Unusual behavior on board a plane is problematic. Suspicion and delay are routine.

After the attempted Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner by a suspect who smuggled an incendiary device in his underwear, costly scanners that show the outlines of a person's body are being deployed in airports here and abroad.

The $150,000 machines are not intended to humiliate passengers or titillate Transportation Security Administration employees. They are designed to detect explosives and other contraband while keeping the flying public safe. The images of passengers' faces are obscured on the machines' screens.

Muslim-American scholars are offended by the 40 full-body scanners in use at U.S. airports and the 450 that are on the way. A group of the scholars has issued a religious ruling forbidding Muslims from going through the machines.

Citing Islamic teachings that forbid Muslims from being seen naked by others, the scholars urged the faithful to opt for physical pat-downs by a security guard instead. From a public security standpoint, it's hard to imagine that pat-downs, which any passenger already may request under TSA rules, would be as effective in detecting concealed dangerous substances.

TSA officials have said that a full-body scanner would have detected the explosives sewn inside the underwear worn by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian Muslim who is charged with the botched Detroit bombing. But these scholars would have spared him from such screening.

The wholesale opting-out by one religious group could encourage other passengers, for their own religious or personal reasons, to refuse the sophisticated scans as well. That could undercut the whole purpose of installing the machines and leave U.S. travelers with the hassle of airport screening but without its security payoff.

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