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The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) has announced that soon, software upgrades to the full-body scanners in use at airports will make privacy concerns a thing of the past, while still maintaining security.
The upgrades will be applied to the 250 millimeter-wave scanners in use, which currently project a “virtual nude” image of travelers before they enter the terminal areas. The new software, called Automated Target Recognition (ATR), will project a “generic outline of a person,” the TSA said.
If the software says no threat is indicated, an “OK” will be displayed on the monitor. If instead a potential risk is detected, a passenger will be required to undergo additional screening.
In addition, as opposed to current procedure, which has TSA agents view the images of passengers in a separate room, the new “less embarrassing” images will enable the TSA to display the images to passengers themselves. Passengers will be able to view their “generic images” as they cross the checkpoint into what is called the “sterile” area of an airport.
The software will be rolled out over the next few months, although the TSA wasn’t clear on when the rollout will be completed. Testing of the ATR software began in February.
Millimeter-wave scanners are one of the two types of AIT (advanced imaging technology) scanners that are used to “look beneath” travelers’ clothes for contraband, explosives, and weapons. The other type, backscatter scanners, already produce a more modest view of those scanned, a somewhat cartoonish image of a traveler being screened. That said, those 250-odd machines will be tested with their own version of the new software, beginning in the fall.
You can see the new type of image, the old millimeter-wave image, and the current backscatter image in the slideshow section.