TSA announces testing of new passenger imaging technologies at security checkpoints

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National Press Release
Tuesday, July 31, 2007

WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today contract awards to begin testing millimeter wave imaging machines, as well as additional backscatter machines, at airport security checkpoints in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and New York-JFK in the coming months. These passenger imaging technologies enable TSA to screen passengers for prohibited items on their person quickly, unobtrusively and without physical contact, detecting weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threat items concealed under layers of clothing.

“Exploring new technologies is critical to enhancing security at all points in the process,” said TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. “Millimeter wave and backscatter expand our explosives detection capabilities at the checkpoint, and further testing will allow us to determine the role these technologies can play in the future.”

The announcement was made in conjunction with contract awards to American Science & Engineering (backscatter), L-3 Communications (millimeter wave) and Rapiscan Systems (backscatter). The contracts call for each vendor to lease up to five of their systems to TSA for testing in airports for up to six months. Total cost of the initial contracts is approximately $2.3 million, with options to purchase additional units.

Passenger imaging technology is used in airport and other security settings around the world. Backscatter technology has been in place at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport since February, and passengers have been choosing backscatter screening over a physical pat-down by a wide margin. The new contracts allow TSA to expand this testing, and marks the first time millimeter wave technology will be deployed to security checkpoints in the U.S. Once a test and evaluation schedule is finalized, the technology will be evaluated until one or more vendors are chosen for a wider deployment.

A millimeter wave image looks like a fuzzy photo negative of a person, and is created when electromagnetic waves are reflected from the body. X-ray backscatter technology uses a narrow, low intensity X-ray beam, scanned over the body's surface at high speed.

For both technologies, the image created shows concealed items including weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threat items. For privacy reasons, the officer attending the passenger will not view the image. Additionally, the officer viewing the image will be remotely located and unable to associate the image with the passenger being screened. Once viewed remotely, the image will not be stored, transmitted or printed.