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New airport scanners alarmed by sweaty armpits

Australia's Sydney Airport debuts allegedly the most sophisticated scanners in the world. However, they appear to be unreasonably sensitive to sweaty armpits.

Every time there dawns a new era of airport safety, we the citizens and passengers of the world bow in wonder at the latest new technology that will save us from our fellow man.

So it was at Australia's Sydney Airport yesterday, where the well-meaning authorities launched a shiny new full-body scanner that would not only ensure that you are not armed, but could also tell what you had for lunch last Tuesday. (That's merely a slight exaggeration, of course.) sniffed out a certain snafu, however, in the scanner's nervous system. For it seemed to have an unreasonable sensitivity to sweaty armpits.

Should you have ever traveled to Australia, you will know that it is easy to become sweaty there. It is sad, therefore, that the second passenger to walk through these fine machines reportedly set off alarm bells--three times.

I cannot be sure how much this passenger was perspiring. However, it was the security staff who reportedly blamed the passenger's armpits.

Australia isn't the first to gravitate toward these scanners, described by Transport Minister Anthony Albanese as "the most advanced passenger-screening technology available in the world."

But when it comes to technology, I often find myself turning toward Germany for an indication of whether a gizmo might be a little too fragile. It is interesting, then, that the Germans have long been skeptical of full-body scanners.

Three years ago, an Interior Ministry representative said of them: "We won't join in with this nonsense."

As if to prove that Germans are relatively consistent in their views, the AFP yesterday reported that the German police, who were testing the scanners at Hamburg airport , declared that in 7 out of 10 cases, they let their alarm bells ring when there was no just cause.

In Hamburg, it wasn't sweat that seems to have been the major problem. Instead, it was everything from several layers of clothing, zips, boots, and even trouser pleats.

If this doesn't seem endearing enough, the German police also reportedly mentioned that 10 percent of the alarm bells were set off merely by the manner in which the passenger was standing.

It's not hard to get the impression that this technology is a shiny show pony rather than a protective cart horse.

Still, the Australians did attempt to show a little sensitivity as they launched their new machines. They reportedly declared that, unlike those in the United States, the scanners will not be taking practically naked pictures with which the security staff could potentially amuse themselves.

Indeed, even the U.S. announced two weeks ago that it would cease the naked picturefest.

Does anyone get the feeling that this technology might be something of a hot, sweaty mess?