UPDATE: TSA Making Airport Body Scanners More Private
Rebecca Dolan, AOL
The changes will be made to the agency's millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines – the full body scanners that many travelers accuse of virtually undressing them for the eyes of TSA agents.
After being tested earlier this year at three U.S. airports, software modifications to the machines will be implemented at airports nationwide. The new software, known as Automated Target Recognition (ATR), displays possible security threats on the same generic image of a person that is used for all passengers.
"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," Pistole said in the statement.
The TSA plans to test similar software for backscatter units in the fall.
Previously, 2/1/11: The Transportation Security Administration has begun testing new software designed to make full body scanner images at airport security more private.
In a demonstration at a TSA facility at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, TSA Administrator John Pistole showed off the technology that produces generic images that do not show body parts when air passengers go through the scanning devices.
Critics have raised concerns about "naked images" they say current body scanners produce. Some have called the body scanners "virtual strip searches."
"The ATR (Automated Target Recognition) technology allows us to maintain the high levels of security we have while doing the best possible job at protecting the privacy of all our passengers," Pistole said of the new software.
The software produces an androgynous image of each passenger. A TSA agent positioned at the scanner watches the screen, which is attached to the body scanner, but not visible to those in the airport security line. Unlike the current setup, the monitor is not in a back room.
If a passenger is found to be clear, a green "OK" screen appears. If a suspicious object is detected, a yellow box highlights the area on the cartoon-like body image where the threat is located. The passenger is then pulled aside for a hand search of that area.
"We believe it addresses the privacy issues that have been raised since the AIT equipment was deployed," Pistole said.
Critics ranging from former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, who is suing the TSA, to a Kentucky attorney who launched an airport underwear line – designed to block private parts when air passengers go through full body scanners at security – have criticized body scanners as being an invasion of privacy.
The software upgrades were rolled out today at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, with tests at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International and Ronald Reagan airport to follow. The testing period is expected to last 45 to 60 days, before a more expansive rollout.
"We will do the testing to assess whether ATR meets our high standards of detection," said Pistole.
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