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With Modesty In Mind, TSA Rolls Out New Body Scans
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With Modesty In Mind, TSA Rolls Out New Body Scans

National Security

With Modesty In Mind, TSA Rolls Out New Body Scans
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To the nation's airports now, where the TSA is rolling out some new technology at security checkpoints. It's a new generation of full-body scanners.

And as NPR's Brian Naylor reports, they produce a less revealing image of travelers as they pass through security.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Full-body scanners were installed at the nation's airports beginning in 2007. It was to address concerns that terrorists could smuggle explosives hidden in their clothing - or in one infamous case, their underwear -that wouldn't be picked up by standard metal detectors.

They produced a fairly detailed image of a traveler's body that was viewed on monitors by TSA screeners in a separate room. The new technology being introduced by the TSA uses the same scanners, but with upgraded software. Call them scanners 2.0.

Unidentified Man: Looks like this...

NAYLOR: Here at Reagan National Airport outside Washington, the software is already in use. TSA screeners look at a standard, flat-screen computer monitor that's been bolted to the side of the cylindrical scanner. Kawika Riley is a TSA spokesman.

Mr. KAWIKA RILEY (Spokesman, Transportation Security Administration): After someone comes through the machine, they see the very same thing that the officer sees. And that is no image of a passenger but instead, a generic outline of a human body indicating where the anomaly is.

NAYLOR: So this generic outline, it looks like a - it's been described as a cookie cutter, or sort of a gingerbread man?

Mr. RILEY: Yeah, just a simple outline of a human body. And if there's any type of anomaly, there is a box at that area, indicating where it is.

NAYLOR: As we stand and watch, a 20-something man steps into the scanner. When he steps out, the monitor shows a small, yellow square outlined in red, on the gingerbread man's hip.

Unidentified Man: Uh, you've got something in your right pocket, sir.

NAYLOR: So he had something in his pocket. There was a little box there on the -it showed on the stick figure, on the cookie cutter, and it turned out to be a piece of paper.

Mr. RILEY: Exactly. And as you can see, the technology did exactly what it was supposed to do, which is detect an item. You know, fortunately, it was just something that he had left in his wallet. But if it had been a threat, the machine successfully detected it, and it was resolved.

NAYLOR: TSA Administrator John Pistole says the software upgrade should help ease some travelers' worries about having their nearly naked image examined.

Mr. JOHN PISTOLE (Administrator, Transportation Security Administration): We've actually been working on this for quite a while, predating any of the controversy about it. But we believe this does address the privacy concerns that some passengers have raised.

NAYLOR: A spokeswoman for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which has sued the TSA over its use of scanners, says it still wants to see the technical specifications of the new software, and whether it can store passengers' images. The TSA says their scanners have never had that capability. The new software should be in place at many airports by the end of the year.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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