High Tech Full Body Scanners Coming Online at Port Columbus

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What Transportation Security Administration officials call “advanced imaging technology units” are replacing metal detectors at airports across the U-S. Wednesday at Port Columbus, TSA and airport authorities introduced the first of five units planned for the airport. Each unit reveals far more than metal on a passenger.

Each of the 6 million passengers leaving Port Columbus this year will encounter a new type of full body scanner. It looks like two separate wardrobe-sized black boxes with space between for a passenger to stand, raise his arms and wait a few seconds for the image to be taken. TSA agents and others standing near the passenger do not see the scan. It’s viewed by a person sitting at a computer in what is described as a secure remote location, about a 12 foot square enclosure located maybe 60 feet from the scanner.

The image is intentionally blurred but still leaves no doubt about the individual’s gender. Port Columbus TSA Federal Security Director Don Barker explains.

“These imaging technologies safely screen passengers for metallic and nonmetallic threats including weapons, explosives and other objects concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact and help TSA keep the traveling public safe.”

Barker says the equipment is incapable of keeping the images.

“To meet the privacy concerns, all this stuff’s deleted as soon as you step out of the machine and we’ve completed viewing. In fact, the machine can’t store it”.

TSA officials stress that advanced imaging is optional for all passengers. Port Columbus Vice president of Business Development David Whitaker says, he was glad to hear that.

“Others [passengers] we’ve heard of don’t want to walk through that machine, and they’re vocal about it. They want to be patted down.”

Being “patted down” and going through the standard metal detector are the other option for passengers who refuse advanced imaging.

he units going into Port Columbus use what is called “backscatter” imaging, a new type of x-ray technology. Officials say the level of radiation received during a single scan is equivalent to two minutes in flight at full altitude.

Don Barker of the TSA describes the new imaging technology as efficient and says it will not add time to the airport screening process. Whitaker says it’s not clear yet whether the new scanners will add more time. He adds: “I would say the bottom line for us is time is secondary to thoroughness and comprehensiveness as it relates to security.”