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TSA Moves to Enhance Privacy

New software in scanning machines will produce generic body outline

August 1, 2011

© Houston Airport System
A more generic image will soon be captured as passengers pass through the AIT machines.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is installing new software on many of its screening machines in an effort to enhance passengers’ sense of privacy, and the software upgrades should be operating in Houston by early September.

The TSA is installing the new software into the millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines, which are used to detect foreign and potentially dangerous items being carried anywhere on a passenger’s body.

In the past, some passengers have complained that the image generated by the scan is too detailed. But with the new technology in place, potentially dangerous items are still detected, however screeners only see a general outline, offering no specific details as to the passenger’s physical characteristics.

“Our top priority is the safety of the traveling public, and the 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. “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.”

The new software is expected to be installed in AIT machines at both George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport. Installation is slated to begin in early August and should be complete within five weeks. By eliminating the image of an actual passenger and replacing it with a generic outline of a person, passengers will now be able to view the same outline that the TSA officer sees.

TSA officials say another added benefit is the fact that a separate TSA officer will no longer be required to view the image in a remotely located viewing room. The TSA is expected to announce additional changes to the screening process in August. Pistole has stated publicly that he wants to expand the enhanced behavior detection program and also wants to minimize the role of patdowns in funneling children through the screening process.

“I think we can do a different way of screening children that recognizes the very high likelihood that they do not have a bomb on them,” Pistole says. “I think under our new protocols we would see very few patdowns of children.” Pistole says that TSA screeners would instead encourage parents to help them figure out why a child may be setting off the alarm system. 
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