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[October 17, 2008]
'Whole-Body Imaging' Process Should Only Take 40 Seconds
Oct 17, 2008 (Tampa Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Starting Oct. 24, the Transportation Security Administration will add a new anxiety for some Tampa travelers: A high-tech scanner that allows a security officer to peek through the clothing of air travelers to ensure they are not hiding weapons or explosives.
The goal is to make air travel safer. But the "whole-body imaging" raises a lot of questions for skeptical travelers. Here are some answers:
Who is selected?
It's random. Four of the "millimeter wave" technology machines are installed at Tampa International Airport, one at each of the four airways. Security officers plan to keep the machine in constant use, so the likelihood you will be selected depends on how busy it is. Children who appear younger than 12 will not have to do the scan. The technology is safe for pregnant women, TSA officials say, so they won't be exempt.
If I am selected, what happens?
Like now, you'll empty your pockets, remove your belt and shoes and send them through the same scanner as your carry-on luggage. You'll walk through the metal detector and then be met by a security officer who will lead you into the machine. You'll make two brief poses -- one with your arms up and another with them down -- and then step outside. A security officer at another location will view the image and radio back that you've been cleared. The process should take less than 40 seconds.
What does the picture look like?
The three-dimensional image looks like a film negative or a robotic sketch. It can see beneath your clothing, but the image is muddy enough that anatomical parts are hard to see. Your face is obscured. The scan will detect weapons, explosives and about anything else someone tries to conceal.
Can anybody see the pictures later?
No. The images cannot be stored. The moment a new picture is taken, the security officer has no way to review previous images. The computer won't allow anyone to save the images to a CD, a disk or a separate hard drive. Security officers can't bring a cell phone or any recording equipment into the room where images are viewed. Anyone who violates the policy will face stiff punishment.
Who sees the images?
Only federal security officers with the Transportation Security Administration specially trained to run the equipment. They are not airport employees. You cannot see your image, either.
Can I refuse?
Yes. Anybody who is selected for the full-body scan can opt for a pat-down instead. Anyone who refuses both options will not be allowed to fly.
How often do people refuse the scan?
Not often. About 90 percent of travelers in airports where they are in use opt for the scan over the pat-down.
Where else is this used?
At the Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore-Washington, Detroit, Dallas-Fort Worth, Las Vegas, Miami and Phoenix international airports.
How much do the scanners cost?
$170,000. TSA officials said they estimate day-to-day operating costs will be nominal.
What happened to the puffers?
Tampa had seven trace portals, which were a little bigger than a phone booth and used to detect explosives. These "puffers" shot bursts of air on the traveler to dislodge any trace particles of explosives from their skin or clothes. A computer analyzed the particles, then sounded an alarm if explosives were detected. The machines were trouble prone and didn't always detect explosives. Tampa's machines have been sent to other government agencies.
Sources: Gary Milano, TSA's federal security director for the Tampa Bay area; Transportation Security Administration; U.S. Government Accountability Office
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