TSA Ending Nude X-Ray Body Scanner Images at Airport Checkpoints

Airport Security file photo

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced by way of their blog, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013, the gradual elimination of nude x-ray images of airline passengers.

By June 1, 2013, all TSA screening at U.S. airports is planned to feature a new kind of technology that will still scan passengers, but display an abstract, cartoon-like figure without anatomical detail.

If the technology interprets the possible presence of a dangerous item, it will highlight the display to indicate the area of the passenger’s body where an item triggering and alarm is believed to be.

So technically there will still be scanning, and somewhere within the electronics of the device one surmises all sorts of details might be analyzed by the technology.  But it will then present to the viewing screen, for the human being working TSA, the abstract figure.

One question not addressed by the announcement is how often false alarms might be generated, and whether the more highly detailed scans have ever cut back on false alarms, by enabling security personnel to view unknown items on the screen in greater detail, and discount them as threats.  Presumably if the new technology detects a potential concern, and simply highlights its general location without any visual detail, security personnel would feel the need to check out 100% of the alarms with a more direct physical assessment.

Also not addressed is how the technology will detect items of concerns, and the extent to which false alarms ever do get generated.

The following is the text of the TSA “release” that was published on their “blog.”

Friday, January 18, 2013
Rapiscan Backscatter Contract Terminated – Units to be Removed

You may remember us blogging about new privacy software we rolled out for the L3 Millimeter Wave body scanners. It’s called Automated Target Recognition (ATR), and with the use of this software, our officers no longer see an image of the person being screened. This is what our officers see if the passenger alarms:

[image at http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-3gHN-C-DOtc/TUnHjvTNq0I/AAAAAAAAAPw/j9amRwcxS1o/s400/ATR-Picture_Monitor.jpg]

You can read more about the ATR software here.

Congress mandated as a part of the The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 that all TSA body scanners should be equipped with ATR by June 1, 2012 (There has since been an extension to June 1, 2013).
At this point, all Millimeter wave units have been equipped with ATR, but even with the extension to 2013, Rapiscan was unable to fulfill their end of the contract and create the ATR software that would work with backscatter units. As a result, TSA terminated the contract with Rapiscan in order to comply with the congressional mandate.
All Rapiscan AIT units currently operational at checkpoints around the country, as well as those stored at the TSA Logistics Center, will be removed by Rapiscan at their expense and stored until they can be redeployed to other mission priorities within the government. Most of the backscatter units being removed will be replaced with millimeter wave units. The millimeter units will be moved from the inventory currently deployed at other airports and from an upcoming purchase of additional millimeter wave units.
By June 1, 2013 travelers will only see machines which have ATR that allow for faster throughput.  This means faster lanes for the traveler and enhanced security.
As always, use of this technology is optional.
Bob Burns
TSA Blog Team


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