Screeners get closer look
Millimeter-wave scans, also known as whole-body imaging, will be an alternative to pat-down searches for passengers at Tulsa International Airportby the end of the year. The extremely high-frequency radio waves pass through clothing and are reflected by the body. Courtesy L3 Communications
By D.R. STEWART World Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2008 2:13 AM
Last Modified: 8/7/2008 3:33 AM
Federal security checkpoints at Tulsa International Airport this fall will receive a technological upgrade.
Executives at the Transportation Security Administration said this week that Tulsa will be one of 14 airports receiving millimeter-wave technology machines before the end of the year.
The $170,000 machine will be deployed at Tulsa International’s security checkpoints to augment the metal detectors that passengers must pass through as their carry-on bags are X-rayed.
If a passenger is selected for secondary screening, he or she may volunteer for millimeter-wave screening or choose a physical pat-down by a TSA officer, TSA officials said.
“In Phoenix (Sky-Harbor International Airport) during the pilot program last fall, more than 90 percent of passengers opted for millimeter-wave scanning instead of the pat-down,” said TSA spokesman Carrie Harmon. “The advantage of millimeter wave and other passenger imaging technology is that it allows us to detect weapons, explosives and other metal objects under clothing without physical contact.”
Resembling phone booths, millimeter-wave machines direct radio waves that penetrate the clothing of a passenger standing inside them to reveal concealed weapons, explosives, liquids, metals, ceramics, plastics,
money, drugs or other contraband.
The beams of radio frequency energy directed at passengers by millimeter-wave machines are 10,000 times less powerful than a cell phone transmission, eliminating health concerns of competing technologies using harmful electromagnetic radiation, TSA officials said.
Millimeter-wave technology, also known as whole-body imaging, is controversial among privacy advocates and civil libertarians because the radio frequency energy reflected back from the passenger creates a three-dimensional image of the traveler’s body displayed on a TSA monitor.
However, TSA executives said the passenger’s face is blurred by millimeter-wave security features. Also, security officers tending the monitors are placed at a distance from the millimeter-wave machines and cannot identify passengers visually, TSA officials said.
Security officers tending the millimeter-wave monitors communicate with another officer at the checkpoint if an alarm is produced, TSA executives said.
“The transportation security officer standing next to the millimeter-wave booth never sees the image of the passenger,” TSA’s Harmon said. “The image is viewed by another transportation security officer at a remote location, and the image can’t be stored, transmitted or printed. The image is deleted after it is viewed by the officer. It can never be retrieved again.”
Besides cutting-edge, fool-proof technology, whole-body imaging is efficient.
Instead of a time-consuming pat-down by TSA security officers, the millimeter-wave machines scan passengers in seconds — up to 600 people per hour, according to L-3 Communications, the New York-based manufacturer of the machines.
“The use of whole-body imaging is a significant step forward in checkpoint technology,” TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said last month when TSA introduced the machines at Miami International Airport. “By expanding the use of millimeter wave, we’re providing our officers with another tool to enhance security and protect the public from evolving threats.”
Harmon and other TSA executives said Tulsa International is receiving millimeter-wave technology because the airport’s security checkpoint configuration can accommodate the machines, while some larger airports were not ready for them.
“We chose airports based on a number of factors, including selecting airports of different sizes,” Harmon said.
Millimeter-wave technology is being used at 10 U.S. airports: Miami International, Los Angeles International, New York’s John F. Kennedy International, Baltimore-Washington International, Denver International, Albuquerque International, Ronald Reagan Washington National, Detroit Metropolitan, Dallas-Fort Worth International and Phoenix Sky-Harbor International.
During the remainder of the year, TSA also will deploy millimeter-wave machines at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Atlanta Hartsfield International, Boston Logan International, Indianapolis International, New York’s LaGuardia, Tampa-St. Petersburg International, Puerto Rico’s San Juan International, San Francisco International, Buffalo International, Chicago O’Hare International, Raleigh-Durham, Richmond International and Jacksonville International.
SALT LAKE CITY — There are new fears that images of what’s underneath the clothing of airline passengers could be circulated on the Internet.
The top story this morning linked to images of a man and woman, clothes-less in a full-body scanner. It mentioned that the machines are being used at Salt Lake International airport. It’s leading to questions about if they are actual passengers, or that any passenger’s image could end up on the Internet.
TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird says the pictures online right now are of models demonstrating how the equipment works. He is quick to say the equipment cannot save, print or send images of passengers.
“Once we resolve the image, then the next passenger comes into the machine and the image that is on the screen is immediately deleted,” Baird said.
He says the scanners are part of a pilot program right now at several airports around the nation.
“We’ve been able to determine that some people are actually bringing items through the checkpoint that are not allowed, that are prohibited, but because they are not metallic in nature, would not be picked up with the walk-through metal detector,” he said.
Baird says the screeners are in a resolution room away from the checkpoint, so they don’t see the face or identity of the person being screened. That way even celebrities coming through won’t be identified and potentially exploited.
Small amounts of radio signals are projected over the surface of the body at high speed. This is done using two antennas as they rotate around the body. This energy is then reflected back from your body and any other objects within its beam. This reflection is then used to construct a 3-dimensional image. This image of the body is displayed on a remote montior for analysis.
According to the TSA, there is no way to save, print or transfer the image once it’s shown on the screen.