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Civil Libertarians Sound Off Over NYPD X-Ray Van Program

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- X-ray vans can see into vehicles and even some buildings, and while they were developed for the military, they are now being used by the NYPD.

As CBS2's Tony Aiello reported, a civil rights group was raising concerns Tuesday night about privacy and health with regard to the vans.

Z Backscatter vehicles look like everyday delivery vans, but they pack equipment similar to that used in airports to peer under clothing and into vehicles. They can spot weapons, explosives and contraband.

"The NYPD, rightly so, is up on all the latest technology," said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

But Lieberman is concerned enough to join a lawsuit, seeking to force the NYPD to answer some basic questions about the X-ray vans.

Those questions include what safeguards are in place to protect the public from the radiation they emit.

"What are the protocols? Are there any health risks to us from the use of these X-ray vans? Are they getting a warrant when they use them?" she said. "So there are lots of unanswered questions."

Another question is how long the NYPD keeps images of vehicles after they've been captured on the computer inside the X-ray van.

"The devices we have, the vehicles if you will, are all used lawfully," police Commissioner Bill Bratton said Tuesday.

Bratton said the X-ray vans are only used in counterterrorism efforts, and are never employed to battle street-level crime. Beyond that, he had no comment.

"This falls into the range of security and counterterrorism activity that we engage in," Bratton said. "We'll see them in court."

The NYPD will continue to appeal a judge's order to release certain records about the X-ray van program.

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