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TSA unveils new security scanners at McCarran

Airport security

Julie Jacobson / AP

Transportation Security Administration supervisor Nick Fox, right, demonstrates new software being tested with advanced imaging technology at McCarran International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. TSA spokesman Dwayne Baird says the software unveiled Tuesday lets passengers see what its security screeners see, and it uses a more generic image.

Updated Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011 | 11:12 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

A Transportation Security Administration employee is screened during a demonstration of new software being tested with advanced imaging technology at McCarran International Airport on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2011. The software will let passengers see what agents see and uses a generic image.

Airline passengers won’t have to worry about airport security officers getting high-tech peep shows thanks to new software that has been developed for security checkpoint scanners.

The Transportation Security Administration demonstrated the new scanning process Tuesday at McCarran International Airport, one of three airports nationwide that are field-testing millimeter wave technology.

The process, which takes about seven seconds, produces a generic image of an individual that shows no anatomical details. The images differ from those produced by backscatter X-ray scans that produce a virtually nude image of a subject and have been widely criticized by privacy advocates.

The TSA also plans to set up hardware that would enable passengers the opportunity to see the image at the same time as the screener. A person who passes the screening test would see a green screen on a monitor. Those who fail would see a red band on the screen and an animated image showing where metal objects are hidden.

Dwayne Baird, a public affairs manager for the TSA, said the new scanning technology is being tested at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport as well as McCarran. The McCarran scanner with the millimeter wave technology is in the C Gates annex checkpoint on the bridge linking the C gates with the A and B gates.

Baird said it would cost the TSA about $2.7 million to load the upgraded software on airport scanners and install the new screen hardware nationwide.

“We think the public will prefer this because the image is less intrusive and anybody can view it, including the passenger,” he said.

He said the millimeter wave scanning system produces a radio wave around the exterior of a passenger’s body. He said the radio wave is 10,000 times less powerful than those emitted by the average cell phone.

The system was first tested by the TSA in a lab and then in a sterile environment. Tuesday’s rollout was the first field test in an airport. If the three-month field test is successful, the TSA expects to upgrade scanners with the new software nationwide.

Baird cautioned that passengers could still face pat-down searches if they fail the scanning test and travelers will still have to remove their shoes during security checks with the new technology.

McCarran was selected as one of the test facilities because it is one of the nation’s top origination and destination airports and because it serves a diverse group of passengers.

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