TSA announces bi-coastal launch of millimeter wave imaging technology

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National Press Release
Thursday, April 17, 2008

WASHINGTON The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced today pilots of millimeter wave technology to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Millimeter wave is currently in use at Phoenix Sky-Harbor International Airport. Millimeter wave detects weapons, explosives and other threat items concealed under layers of clothing without any physical contact. It is a promising alternative to the physical pat-down.

“The use of whole body imaging is a significant step forward in checkpoint technology,” said TSA Administrator Kip Hawley. “By expanding the use of millimeter wave, we are providing our officers with another tool to enhance security and protect the public from evolving threats.”

At LAX, millimeter wave will be used in a random continuous protocol. Alternative screening measures will be offered to individuals who decline to go through millimeter wave when asked to do so. The LAX pilot enables TSA to examine millimeter wave's operational capability, throughput, training, ease of use and privacy perceptions by the traveling public. The metal detector will remain in place at the checkpoint. The passenger will pass through it after going through the millimeter wave machine.

Millimeter wave at JFK will be piloted as a secondary screening device similar to its use in Phoenix. The technology is a voluntary alternative to a pat-down during secondary screening. During the Phoenix pilot, 90 percent of passengers have chosen the technology over the traditional pat-down.

In both locations, a transportation security officer will guide passengers through the process, which involves stepping into the machine and remaining still for a matter of seconds 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 an alarm is presented. A security algorithm will be applied to the image to blur 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 a robotic image. It is safe and the energy emitted by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone. TSA recently announced it will purchase and deploy 30 more of the machines this year.

For more information about passenger imaging, please visit www.tsa.gov.