D/FW Airport gets security tool that's more revealing


D/FW AIRPORT -- Remember X-Ray Specs?

The prank glasses, touted in 1950s-era comic book advertisements, claimed to give you Superman-like vision.

"See the bones in your hand, see through clothes!"

Well, the newest gadget in the war on terrorism really does see through clothes.

Beginning today at two checkpoints at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport's Terminal D, the Transportation Security Administration will use a "whole body imaging" machine that can produce images of your body to detect prohibited objects.

The machine will blur your face while a remote screener looks over the rest of your body for suspicious items.

Background

The TSA has been testing various technologies in whole body imaging to detect objects people may try to carry 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 inspect for weapons, explosives and other threatening objects -- metal or otherwise -- without physical contact. The two major types of technology are 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. Although 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.

ACLU concerns

Despite the TSA's precautions, the American Civil Liberties Union calls the implementation of the imaging technology 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 they are applied; pressure to pull images of "a celebrity like George Clooney or someone with an unusual or freakish body" may be too much for some employees to resist.

What happens when you set off an alarm?

If a suspicious item cannot be cleared visually, the passenger will get a patdown in the area where the item was detected.

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, millimeter wave may be used either as an optional primary screening machine, or as a secondary screening machine or alternative to patdowns.

What was public reaction during testing?

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

What if you really hate this idea?

If you object to whole body imaging, you can undergo a patdown by a same-sex screener.

okada@star-telegram.com
BRYON OKADA, 817-390-7752


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