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Body scanners installed at Manchester airport

New Hampshire Union Leader

December 16. 2011 11:05PM
A passenger goes through the new security imaging system at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester on Friday morning. (DAVID LANE / UNION LEADER)

Air travelers concerned that new body imaging equipment at the state's largest airport will produce naked pictures of them can rest easy. But anyone who fears technology that makes them look like Gumby should be afraid - very afraid.

Representatives of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were on hand at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport Friday to demonstrate to media members the latest passenger screening equipment installed there - three Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units, commonly known as whole-body imaging scanners. TSA officials pointed out that the images the scanner produces are a far cry from the whole-body, nude-like images of passengers produced by early versions of similar technology, which sparked an outcry among passengers who felt their privacy was violated every time they took to the skies.

The scanners in Manchester produce a gender-neutral image of a human figure, more closely resembling a crime scene outline than a male or female form.

'I think that passengers are appreciative that the new advanced imaging software renders an image that is not person-specific,' said TSA spokesperson Ann Davis. 'The passengers can see what we see, because the monitor is right here as they pass through. And there's a 'clear' button right on the screen. As soon as the officer determines that there are no anomalies, they hit 'clear' and the image is gone. They are not stored anywhere.'

The new scanners look like large tubes, bearing a slight resemblance to a transporter pad in Star Trek. The scanner is open at both ends and upon entering the passenger stands in the middle on spaces clearly marked for their feet. The device quickly moves around them, taking between two and three seconds to complete the scan.

Davis said the scanner is able to detect weapons such as knives or guns and explosives, as well as simple items like a bracelet, using what she termed 'harmless electromagnetic waves.'

The device differs from the first body-imaging scanners used at airports, which showed what amounted to a naked image that was specific to the passenger being scanned. If no anomalies are detected, no image of the person is produced at all - a green 'OK' appears on the TSA agent's view screen instead, and the passenger is allowed to move along toward the gate.

'We purposefully didn't want to be first in line for the initial scanners, because we heard that there were a lot of concerns about the technology,' said Thomas Malafronte, assistant airport director for Manchester-Boston. 'So far, the feedback on the new scanners has largely been positive, and in terms of efficiency and output, people seem to move through these scanners very quickly. They are a good addition for us.'

To date, TSA has deployed about 540 advanced imaging technology units to more than 104 airports nationwide.

Each TSA agent at Manchester-Boston Airport received roughly 30 hours of training over the last few weeks, said Davis, to prepare for the launch of the new equipment.

Davis said that if a passenger doesn't want to go through the scanner, that person can instead choose to pass through an older-style metal detector and a pat-down search. Children under 12 may pass through the scanner without removing their shoes, per new TSA regulations.

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