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'Body image' scanners ready for use at D/FW

D/FW AIRPORT — Beginning Friday at two checkpoints at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport’s Terminal D, the Transportation Security Administration will begin using two "whole body image" machines that can look through your clothes and produce images of your body to detect metallic and non-metallic objects hidden under layers of clothing.

For modesty’s sake, the machine will blur your face while a remote screener looks over the rest of your body for suspicious items.

TSA will officially launch the millimeter wave machines at D/FW on Friday morning.

Background

The TSA is conducting pilot programs to evaluate various technologies in whole-body imaging to detect objects carried on persons going through airport security checkpoints. Images show the surface of the skin and objects that are on the body, not in the body. The expectation is that the machines will allow screeners to conduct inspections for weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threatening objects without physical contact. There are two major types of technology: backscatter and millimeter wave. D/FW is implementing the latter.

What is millimeter wave technology?

Millimeter wave uses electromagnetic waves to generate a somewhat robotic image of the passenger. The three-dimensional image is displayed on a remote monitor.

Privacy safeguards

The screener who views the image is in a remote location and has no direct contact with the passengers. According to the TSA, images are "not equivalent to photography and do not present sufficient details that the image could be used for personal identification." A blur appears over the face as the front of the rotating image comes into view. While the equipment can collect and store images, those functions have been disabled by the manufacturer, and images will remain on screen only as long as it takes to resolve suspicious objects. Policy dictates that screeners in the remote viewing area will be prohibited from using recording devices such as cellphone cameras, etc.

ACLU concerns

Despite the precautions TSA has taken, the American Civil Liberties Union calls the implementation of millimeter wave at airports a troubling development. According to Barry Steinhardt, director of ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Program, the technology "produces strikingly graphic images of passengers’ bodies. Those images reveal not only our private body parts, but also intimate medical details like colostomy bags. That degree of examination amounts to a significant — and for some people humiliating — assault on the essential dignity of passengers that citizens in a free nation should not have to tolerate."

Other concerns raised by Steinhardt: Passengers may not understand what they’re consenting to; software safeguards like obscuring the face can be undone as easily as it is applied; pressure to pull images of "a celebrity like George Clooney or someone with an unusual or freakish body" may be too hard for some employees to resist.

Can you really tell that’s George Clooney?

Not with the face blurred and the image storage capability disabled, TSA officials have said.

What happens when you alarm?

If a suspicious item cannot be cleared visually, the passenger will undergo a physical patdown targeted to the area identified through the whole body image visual inspection.

Who gets screened and where?

There are two machines at D/FW — at the south and central checkpoints of Terminal D. Typically, when those checkpoints are less crowded, all passengers can be screened with a limited number of machines. Depending on the airport where the system is rolled out, the millimeter wave may be used either as an optional primary screening machine or as a secondary screening machine/alternative to patdowns.

What was the public reaction during the pilot program?

90 percent of passengers at Phoenix Sky Harbor preferred the millimeter wave over the patdown.

What if you really hate this idea?

This is an optional screening method. If you object to it, you can undergo a traditional manual patdown by a same-sex screener.

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