Saturday, April 19, 2008

TSA deploys millimeter wave screening devices at LAX and JFK airports

TSA Millimeter WaveThe U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that millimeter wave technology screening devices have been deployed to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Millimeter wave technology, which is already in use at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, detects weapons, explosives and other threat items concealed under layers of clothing without any physical contact. The technology is billed as an alternative to the physical pat-down.

This technology uses electromagnetic waves, passed over the body, to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body. The energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone, and is said to be harmless.

The TSA explains:
At LAX, millimeter wave will be used in a random continuous protocol. Alternative screening measures will be offered to individuals who decline to go through millimeter wave when asked to do so. The LAX pilot enables TSA to examine millimeter wave's operational capability, throughput, training, ease of use and privacy perceptions by the traveling public. The metal detector will remain in place at the checkpoint. The passenger will pass through it after going through the millimeter wave machine.

Millimeter wave at JFK will be piloted as a secondary screening device similar to its use in Phoenix. The technology is a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening. During the Phoenix pilot, 90 percent of passengers have chosen the technology over the traditional pat-down.

In both locations, a transportation security officer will guide passengers through the process, which involves stepping into the machine and remaining still for a matter of seconds while the technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger from two antennas that simultaneously rotate around the body. Once complete, the passenger will step through the opposite side of the millimeter wave portal.

To ensure privacy, security officers view images from a remote location. From this location, the security officer cannot ascertain the identity of the passenger, either visually or otherwise, but can communicate with a fellow officer at the checkpoint if an alarm is presented. A security algorithm will be applied to the image to blur the face of each passenger, further protecting privacy.
The TSA plans to purchase and deploy 30 more of the machines this year.

For more information, visit the TSA web page on Millimeter Wave Whole Body Imaging technology (including video demonstrations).

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