February 2, 2011

New Scanners Being Tested In US Airports

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Tuesday unveiled its new pilot program aimed at calming the uproar over full-body scanners used to screen travelers at airports around the country.

The new software will no longer produce an image of the actual person said the TSA. The new scanners will be released in three US airports that will show screeners an alert on a generic male or female figure only if something suspicious is detected and will highlight the spot of concern.

The first airport to test the new software was McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the US capital are the other two due to have the new program installed within a few days.

The current scanners in place at airports around the country have sparked an uproar among travelers because they produce a graphic image of a person's nude body, including genitalia.

TSA administrator John Pistole told AFP that the new software has been found to "provide the same high level of security as current advanced imaging technology units while further enhancing the privacy protections already in place."

"We believe it addresses the privacy issues that have been raised since the AIT (advanced imaging technology) equipment has been deployed since the fall of '07," he said after a demonstration of the new software at a testing facility in Washington DC.

"We have high hopes for it, but obviously we want to make sure that we are getting it right in terms of not only lab testing ... but also operationally tested" in the three chosen airports, Pistole said.

With the new software, if no potential threats are detected, no outline will appear on the TSA agent's monitor -- only the word "OK."

However, any "areas containing potential threats will require additional screening," the TSA told Reuters.

A couple of months ago Pistole said that similar software used on body scanners in Europe had too many problems with detecting real threats, but officials with the TSA said they have worked with the manufacturers and their technology experts to work out the kinks for use of the scanners in the United States.

If the initial tests are successful, the TSA plans to use the new software in all of the scanners that are now in service. The TSA employs about 500 full-body scanners in 78 US airports.

The new software, however, only works with the millimeter wave scanners made by L3 Communications -- which accounts for half of the machines in use. The TSA is working on similar software for the scanners that use backscatter technology.

The TSA is hoping to double the number of full-body scanners in airports this year, but that could prove difficult due to the current battle between Congress and the Obama administration over the federal budget.

Passengers who decline to go through the body scanners are required to undergo a physical pat-down by a TSA officer which includes their groin and chest areas, provoking more backlash over the invasion of privacy.

Despite the upheaval over the use of the scanners, only about 132 people filed complaints with the TSA about the screening procedures since November, according to figures released by the Department of Transportation.


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