Safe Scanning: New TSA Body Imaging Pacifies Modest Travelers

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Courtesy TSA Blog

Privacy-mongers, rejoice! The Transportation Security Administration, having been hammered by the public for their use of body imaging, is field testing a new technology that will hopefully keep your unmentionables where they belong: out of sight, and out of the hands of strangers.

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The software, called Automatic Target Recognition, or ATR, displays only a generic stick-figure image, rather than the actual outline of the traveler being screened. And instead of a security officer in another room looking at the image — a step TSA took before to make sure no one was feeling ogled — the passenger can check out the cartoonish abstraction alongside the security officer at the checkpoint.

An image only pops up if there’s something unusual detected on the body — otherwise there’s just a big green screen that says “OK” — and said anomalous area is highlighted on the stick-figure. TSA Administrator John Pistole explained today at a House subcommittee hearing that this technology has pros and cons. A ponytail, for example, might be pinged as an unusual shape and cause that person to step out of line. But, on the plus side, said ponytailed person could then look at the image and clear the whole mystery up pretty quickly, avoiding an unnecessary pat down.

The technology was first tested at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, starting Feb. 1, and has since been expanded to two others this week: Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C., and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International. Should field testing go well over the next few months, Pistole says, the change could be a universal one. The method, of course, is still not foolproof, but the level of security is theoretically equal to the current imaging machines — and the method greatly decreases the exposure of America’s ever-modest citizens.

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