Airport screeners now able to see through clothes - WSFA.com Montgomery Alabama news.

Airport screeners now able to see through clothes

millimeter wave machine millimeter wave machine
image from millimeter wave machine image from millimeter wave machine
raw image from backscatter machine (TSA screeners see a more diffused version) raw image from backscatter machine (TSA screeners see a more diffused version)
diffused version of backscatter image (copyright American Science and Engineering Inc., 2008) diffused version of backscatter image (copyright American Science and Engineering Inc., 2008)

By Mark Bullock - bio | email

BALTIMORE, MD (WSFA) - Airport security teams are taking advantage of a new technology these days that is much more advanced than your typical metal detector. In fact, some say the images this machine produces are borderline pornographic.

It's a glass & steel, cylindrical device called a millimeter wave passenger imaging screener.  The machine takes a circular, head-to-toe scan of your entire body in less than a minute.

Amazingly, the energy emitted is 10-thousand times less than a cell phone. But make no mistake about what the machine does. The technology is using radio waves to look under your clothes.

In another part of the airport, far from the scanner, a TSA officer sits in front of a monitor and examines the image, with the face blurred out.  Any item under your clothes, regardless of what it's made of, can be seen.

"This technology uses harmless electromagnetic waves to produce an image of the body that allows the security officer to ensure there are no items or threat items concealed on that person," said TSA spokeswoman Lauren Gaches.

And this isn't the only passenger imaging technology the TSA has deployed.

One of its employees demonstrated the powers of a "backscatter" machine in Phoenix recently. She walked through with a pistol hidden around her waist. In the image above, you can see the pistol easily... along with everything else.

The machines, however, can diffuse the images before they're viewed by TSA employees.

When you show passengers photos of these images, many are surprised.

"Oh my!" said traveler Rosemary Sloan. "That's a little more invasive than I think I would like."

And she is certainly not alone. The American Civil Liberties Union has been vocal in its opposition to the machines.

"This is the ultimate government invasion of your privacy," said the ACLU's Kent Williams. "It literally is a camera that strips you nude for government employees."

But passenger Stacey Zabel takes a more pragmatic approach. As a frequent business flyer, he says time and security are his two biggest concerns.  Modesty isn't even on the list.

"I have no doubt that it's more time efficient," Zabel said. "And it's less invasive, in my opinion, than being wanded."

Millimeter wave screening machines are clearly marked.  And for now, no one is forced to go through them. The TSA allows the passenger to decide. They are being used at 21 of the nation's largest airports, including Atlanta.

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