Cover Story: Protection vs. privacy

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) A not guilty plea for the man the FBI says tried to blow up a Christmas Day flight to Detroit.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was indicted earlier this week. Investigators say the Nigerian National smuggled a sophisticated bomb onto the Delta plane in his pants.

The attempted terrorist attack has the government scrambling to make airplanes safer.

By now you've heard of the whole body scanner.  It takes a picture of what you'd look like with your clothes off.

The government's been using the scanners for several years but now after the terrorist attempt plans to put them in airports as fast as it can.

Charlotte's airport is scheduled to receive one of these machines this year.

It's a classic case of protection versus privacy.  And it comes down to your willingness to give up some of your freedom to be able to fly on an airplane.

These are the images portrayed in the media of what the body scanner images look like.. seems pretty innocent.

But a picture that surfaced today on the conservative media website The Drudge Report showed a more graphic depiction of what the body scanner can do.

"Oh wow," says one woman, "it raises constitutional issues."

We asked terrorism expert Rich Roth whether it's a true representation or whether the Drudge Report picture was made up.

He said, "It can be a little worse than this depending on which system they're using."

The way it works now at 19 airports around the country a TSA security officer who views the image sits in another room - never sees the passenger.  Faces are blurred and most features are not detected.  Images are not stored, but they can be revealing.

Some experts believe had the Christmas Day bomber gone through a body scanner before getting on the airplane authorities would have been alerted to the fact that he was hiding plastic explosives in his underwear.

But it won't catch everything.

"This is the best technology to show the best of what we can show right now," says Roth.  "This technology will not defeat every instance of somebody doing something like this."

Supporters of the body scanners say passengers prefer it to a body pat-down.  They argue if we want to keep bombs from getting on planes then we'll have to give up certain rights.

But a strip search as some believe it is?

There's a debate in Congress over their use.  It may well come down to having to give up our right to privacy to board an airplane.

"Whether we want a totally safe society or we want a free society.. because a free society isn't totally safe and a safe society isn't totally free," says Charlotte attorney Jim Cooney.

Right now, there are 40 body scanners in use at 19 airports including Raleigh Durham Airport.

Charlotte is scheduled to get one this year, part of 150 that will be deployed this year.

The government's got 300 more on order.

How will Charlotte use it?  Likely as a secondary or as a random screening.  They won't put everyone through it.  It's too time consuming.  No airport in the U.S. runs every passenger through it.

However, two international airports have said they're going to screen through the body scanner all passengers traveling to America.