July 21, 2011

TSA To Upgrade Scanners To End ‘Naked’ Images

New software will soon be installed in some airport body scanners that will allow travelers to be screened without having naked digital images created of them, the Transportation Security Administration announced on Wednesday.

The full-body scanners, which now operate at 78 airports throughout the U.S., use low levels of radiation that create an image of travelers that TSA officials use to identify any hidden weapons or contraband.

Once installed, the new software enables the scanners to create a generic body outline that highlights any areas where any anomaly is detected, rather than creating a naked image of passengers.

If a potential threat is detected, the area will require additional screening, the TSA said.  If no potential threats are detected, an "OK" appears on the monitor with no outline, and the passenger is then cleared.

The move to upgrade the millimeter wave body-scanners follows complaints from travelers earlier this year, which prompted the TSA to begin testing the new software at four airports.  

"By eliminating the image of an actual passenger and replacing it with a generic outline of a person, passengers are able to view the same outline that the TSA officer sees," the TSA said in its announcement.

"Further, a separate TSA officer will no longer be required to view the image in a remotely located viewing room. In addition to further enhancing privacy protections, this new software will increase the efficiency of the screening process and expand the throughput capability of AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology)."

The TSA turned to the use of full-body scanners after a Nigerian man attempted to detonate a bomb hidden in his underwear while aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.  Although the bomb failed to fully detonate, it triggered a sense of urgency to boost security to detect explosives underneath clothing.

Software upgrades to the nation's 241 millimeter wave body-scanning machines, made by L-3 Communications, will be rolled out over the next several months in the 40 airports in which they are used, the TSA said.

"This software upgrade enables us to continue providing a high level of security through advanced imaging technology screening, while improving the passenger experience at checkpoints," said TSA Administrator John Pistole.

"Our top priority is the safety of the traveling public, and TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," TSA Administrator John Pistole said.

The agency said it also plans to test similar software this fall for the 247 backscatter scanner machines, made by OSI Systems Inc.'s Rapiscan Systems unit, that are in use in 38 U.S. airports.

The agency has been scrambling for months to address growing complaints by air passengers about the scanners and the intrusive, physical patdowns of young children and elderly travelers.

The agency said it plans to launch a pilot program later this year that will allow some frequent fliers at four major U.S. airports to undergo expedited screening.  The move is seen as an attempt to shift aviation security towards a more individual risk assessment model.

The full TSA announcement can be viewed at http://www.tsa.gov/press/releases/2011/0720.shtm.