Saturday, 10 September 2011

New Body Scan Technology at Airport - Does not Show Naked Body

The Newark Liberty International Airport recently became the first New York-area airport in the USA to install body scanning technology that will replace a system that was harshly criticized for invading travellers' privacy by displaying naked images.

Transportation Security Administration officials unveiled the software at the airport where more than 8 million passengers boarded planes last year. The technology was originally tested in February at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., and rolled out in July.

The new technology will be installed in 241 security machines at 40 airports around the United States over the next few months at a cost of $2.7 million that includes research and development, according to the TSA. The agency plans to install it in all airports eventually.

The new system uses a screen that displays a gray silhouette of a generic body. The screen is placed at security checkpoints in a spot where both the traveller and the security agent can see it.

In demonstrations using TSA employees as travellers, yellow boxes appeared on the silhouette denoting items that needed to be removed such as mobile phones or keys.

Under the previous system, the images of travellers' bodies were displayed in a separate room, where a TSA officer would radio the officer at the checkpoint that a traveller was carrying an item that needed to be scanned. The new system speeds that process by using the yellow boxes to display the exact locations of the offending items, according to Donald Drummer, the airport's federal security director.

"In the past there was an image viewing room that was remote that looked at a body-specific image," Drummer said. "In this case we will have a silhouette on the screen that both the passenger and our officer will see and they will know where to target."

The body scanners' debuted last autumn and sparked a heated debate over security concerns versus travelers' privacy. In response, New Jersey's legislature issued a resolution urging Congress to review the program.

Others called the scans – and the enhanced pat-downs given to people who opted not to be scanned – violations of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. The system also created concerns that the naked images could be downloaded and distributed.

According to TSA statistics, about 2 percent of travellers have opted out of the scans and submitted to pat-downs. The new, generic body scans could lower that number, though some travellers may opt out due to concerns over exposure to radiation.

Deborah Jacobs, executive director of ACLU New Jersey, has been critical of the security procedures, said privacy concerns remain for people who use colostomy bags or wear adult diapers, for instance. She also said it was unclear whether the nude images already taken of travellers are accessible to TSA employees. TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the images are not stored.

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