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Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 1:17pm

TSA to Test Generic Images for Airport Body Scanners

Updated: 3 years ago.
A sample image from one of the Transportation Security Administration's full-body scanners. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of three test sites for new software for the scanners that produces a generic male or female outline rather than this graphic image of individual travelers. (Image Courtesy of TSA.)

The Transportation Security Administration plans to test new software on full-body scanners that it hopes will alleviate some travelers’ privacy worries.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport will be one of three test sites, starting “in the coming days,” according to the TSA.

"We are always looking for new technology and procedures that will both enhance security while strengthening privacy protections," said TSA Administrator John Pistole in a news release. "Testing this new software will help us confirm test results that indicate it can provide the same high level of security as current advanced imaging technology units while further enhancing the privacy protections already in place."

Rather than displaying a graphic image of passengers’ bodies, the new software for body scanners will display a generic male or female outline with potential anomalies highlighted on the image to prompt a further search.

Travelers will see the outline on a screen right after being scanned rather than waiting for an agent in a remote room to view it.

Privacy advocates have complained the advanced imaging technology machines violate passengers’ privacy because of the detail of the resulting images.

“The fact of the matter is, you have a law-abiding citizen about whom the government has no suspicion that they’re doing anything wrong being submitted to a very intrusive, potentially very embarrassing naked body scan,” said former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, who believes the changes do not address that issue.

He said the machines will still be capturing the detailed image, just not displaying it, and that is not enough of an improvement.

“They’re going to continue doing what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re just trying to make it appear to the public that they’ve really changed, but this isn’t a real change.”

TSA officials said the change will strengthen privacy and move people through the scanners more quickly since it eliminates the need for an agent in another room reviewing the scans.

The updated software will be tested at one of the 14 body scanners at Hartsfield-Jackson. TSA has not set a specific time for starting the tests yet.

So far, TSA has nearly 500 of the scanners at 78 airports nationwide.

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