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August 12, 2011

New BWI scanners avoid 'virtual strip search'

The Transportation Security Administration has replaced the software on its enhanced imaging screening devices at BWI Marshall Airport to avoid the explicit body images that some privacy advocates had labeled a "virtual strip search."

BWI is one of several airports nationally where the new software is now operational. Under the new system, if something suspicious is detected by the scanner, it shows up as a small yellow box on a generic body image that both the TSA screener and the passenger can see. The TSA said it will no longer need to have an officer in a room off checkpoint scanning a projection of each passenger's individual form.

TSA spokesman Kawika Riley said the new technology is being deployed at 40 airports around the country with a total of about 240 machines. BWI now has 10 of the devices, deployed at Piers A, B, D and E.

The new software will be installed in all of the TSA's millimeter-wave Advanced Imaging technology machines. Riley said the agency is still working on developing technology that could be used with another form of advanced imaging known as "backscatter" machines.

Riley said the new program will cost roughly $2.7 million to deploy at the 40 airports, but he said the agency should be able to recoup much of that money through savings in staffing and maintaining the separate rooms for viewing the images.



The previous software, which generated an image that distinctly showed individual bodily attributes under a passenger's clothing, was widely resented by travelers -- sometimes for political and religious reasons.

TSA and BWI officials expressed hope the new technology would allay some of the concerns raised by privacy advocates.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 11:53 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Air travel


They can try as hard as they want, but I'm still not going through one of those things. I consider the physical search for "opting out" to be less humiliating than assuming the position and allowing myself to be scanned. Not to mention, the health risks are much better understood.

Scan me, o scan me, I beg of you please,
My bags don’t hold much but I’m full of disease!
I think I have cancer in one of my lungs.
My heart needs an X-ray; it’s on its’ last rungs.
My liver’s inflated, my bladder has shrunk,
My breath is as fetid as last year’s dead skunk.
My health care won’t cover a checkup, so I
Go to the airport where they can espy
My prostate’s dilemma and give me the truth.
Perhaps they can also X-ray a bum tooth.
And since I am homeless I’ll hide contraband;
I hear that the food in the jail is quite grand.

So let me get this straight - we are changing the machines to keep them from providing explicit images - images which we were told they could not provide from the day they were installed....

TSA at its best.

So let me get this straight.

The machines were introduced with the hype that there was no explicit imaging and that images could not be stored.

Then we found out that explicit images could be stored and shared.

Now we are saying that we are modifying software to keep the machines from doing what they supposedly wouldn't do in the first place.

Abolish the TSA!

You are not required to use the scanner. I was direct to one and I politely said no. I was asked "Do you want to be patted down" and I said "that is fine." I was taken aside and patted down. The guy that did it pretty much had the attitude of "another one of these people.. ugg" and had zero interest in having to do his job.

I will not use the machine for health and privacy reasons. The government has lied to us about how safe these machines are. That is why so many people are coming down with cancer that operate those machines.

These machines are really here to make someone rich, nothing else.

I always opt out. It usually only adds a couple of minutes, if that. And all the people who have done the "enhanced patdown" on me have been surprisingly OK to deal with.

So, less than a year ago - Thanksgiving? - the original uproar broke out because of the privacy-invasive imaging. Now, we are told that these same scanners will only show potential problems on a generic image.

Didn't take very long at all to improve these scanners.

Am I missing something or is the TSA going with the Treat Passengers With The Least Possible Amount Of Respect approach?

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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