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Homeland Security


Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has installed technology known as "backscatter" at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport as of February 2007 for a testing phase. This new technology can detect weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threat items concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact. When a passenger steps into the machine, the technology produces an outline of the passenger and allows a screener to detect explosives, prohibited items or a weapon. X-ray backscatter technology uses a narrow, low intensity x-ray beam, scanned over the body's surface at high speed. The amount of x-ray radiation used for backscatter technology is equivalent to approximately 15 minutes of exposure to naturally-occurring background radiation from sources such as the sun's rays. TSA has been interested in the technology for some time and has worked to address privacy concerns associated with this new equipment due to the detail of the outline it produces.

Male Front/Back Scan:

Female Front/Back Scan:

To further enhance privacy, when the Transportation Security Officer has resolved any anomaly, the image is erased from the screen. The capability of printing, storing or transmitting the image is not available to the Transportation Security Officer operating the system. In addition to not storing, printing or transmitting the image, the Transportation Security Officer will be viewing the image on a stand-alone machine (vs. network) that is located in a remote area from the screening process in order to protect the passenger's privacy, therefore the image will not be visible in the public domain. The Transportation Security Officer who is attending to the passenger at the backscatter machine is unable to see the image being produced.

For testing purposes, backscatter would be a voluntary option for passengers undergoing secondary screening as an alternative to the physical pat down procedures currently conducted by TSA Officers at the security screening checkpoint. Passengers volunteering to participate in the operational test will be asked to stand for two separate scans, one facing the system and one facing away. A Transportation Security Officer will guide the passenger through the process, and each scan will take less than 10 seconds. The entire screening process will take less than a minute.

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Page last modified: 13-07-2011 12:50:43 ZULU