CASTLE ROCK, Colo. – Taking a trip during the holidays isn't the only time that people might get a full-body scan to pass through security. People heading to court to testify, get a restraining order, pay a ticket or answer criminal charges could also face a full-body scan at courthouses.
The U.S. Marshals Service, which is in charge of protecting federal judges nationwide, is exploring their use at federal courthouses. And two state courthouses in Douglas and El Paso counties in Colorado have already deployed full-body scanners that use radio waves to detect all objects on a person, including paper.
A guard in a separate room monitors the gray images with pixelated faces and genital areas, and the images aren't stored on a computer. officials said. All visitors to the Douglas County Courthouse in Castle Rock, Colo., undergo full-body scans, while guards at the El Paso County Judicial Center in Colorado Springs use the scanners during peak hours.
Angela Hellenbrand received a quick pat down Tuesday by security guard Mike Couts at the Castle Rock courthouse about 30 miles south of Denver. A guard in another room monitoring the full-body scans alerted Couts to an object in Hellenbrand's left rear pocket. It was the paper backing of a "Junior Deputy Sheriff" sticker that one of the guards had given her two young boys.
"It's OK," Hellenbrand said. "It's how they do security here. It's my second time through."
TSA officers, who handle security at airports, have been called molesters and threatened as they try to carry out patdowns called for in security measures for people who refuse to go through full-body scanners, including some that use X-rays.
The new security techniques are meant to thwart plots by would-be terrorists to use liquid explosives and bombs hidden in shoes and inside underwear. Court observers note that the threat in a courtroom is somewhat different.
"What we are still worried about at a courthouse is angry divorce litigants with a gun," said Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. "Metal detectors are pretty good at that."
Still, court officials note that evolving technology in materials, including plastic guns and knives, aren't detected by the 1970s technology of metal detectors.
"Although we have no current plans for deployment, the U.S. Marshals Service believes in the technology," said Washington-based Michael Prout, assistant director for judicial security for the U.S. marshals. "We will continue to explore the use of body scanners as a security measure for the federal judiciary."
Prout declined to discuss the results of a full-body screening test, citing sensitive law enforcement and procurement information.
In a statement, the marshals said they didn't receive any complaints from people passing through the scanners during the tests. The images of the full-body scans were saved on a computer hard drive, but weren't accessible without an administrative password and weren't reviewed by the marshals, according to the agency.
However, privacy became an issue when it was learned the images were stored. The Marshals Service received a request for the information under the Freedom of Information Act, but it wasn't immediately known who made the request.