PHOENIX – The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today it will begin testing millimeter wave passenger imaging technology at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport (PHX) as a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening. In a matter of seconds, this technology can detect weapons, explosives and other threat items concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact.
"We are committed to testing technologies that improve security while protecting passenger privacy," said TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. "Privacy is ensured through the anonymity of the image: it will never be stored, transmitted or printed, and it will be deleted immediately once viewed."
A transportation security officer will guide passengers through the process, which involves stepping into the machine and remaining still for a matter of seconds, in two different positions, 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 the passenger presents a potential threat. A security algorithm will be applied to the image to mask the face of each passenger, further protecting privacy.
Millimeter wave uses electromagnetic waves to generate an image based on the energy reflected from the body. Active millimeter wave technology passes harmless electromagnetic waves over the human body to create an image that looks much like a fuzzy photo negative. It is safe and the energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone.
Passenger imaging provides a valuable alternative for individuals who would prefer not to submit to a more invasive physical pat-down during secondary screening. TSA began piloting backscatter, another passenger imaging technology, at Phoenix in February. To date, 79 percent of the public has opted to try backscatter over the traditional pat-down in secondary screening.
In addition to effectiveness and suitability assessments, TSA will examine operational issues, including throughput, privacy considerations, training, safety of use and perceptions by the traveling public.
TSA plans to test these technologies further at New York's JFK and LAX in Los Angeles in the coming months. TSA will purchase eight millimeter wave units at a cost of $1.7 million to be used in additional pilots. Millimeter wave is currently in use or under evaluation in several international transportation settings including in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Japan and Thailand. For more information about passenger imaging, please visit www.tsa.gov.