TSA installing new software at Hartsfield-Jackson

The thought of an imaging technology machine producing a specific body image of a passenger troubles some travelers at U.S. airports.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently installing new software on all of the millimeter wave advanced imaging technology machines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, said Jon Allen, a spokesman for TSA. The installation will be complete in a few months, he said.

Allen said the software enhances a passenger's privacy eliminating detailed outlines of a person's body image.

"The main difference is that passenger-specific images will no longer be generated," said Allen in a written statement. "Instead, any anomalies will be identified through a generic outline of a person that will be displayed on a monitor outside the machine."

Passengers will view the same generic human body image a Transportation Security officer will see, he added.

The new software will automatically detect threatening areas on the spot, making it a more efficient system, Allen said.

Two out of 14 machines already contain the new software and are located in the main security checkpoint area of the airport, he explained. The machines are dispersed throughout the airport's north, south and main security checkpoint areas, he said.

Allen said TSA began testing the software at Hartsfield-Jackson on Feb. 5. The technology was also tested at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, in Las Vegas, Nev., and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, in Washington, D.C., he said.

"We needed to ensure it met the same security standards," added Allen.

He said during testing at Atlanta's airport, only one Advanced Imaging Technology machine contained the new software. After testing was complete in April and the results were evaluated, TSA decided to maintain the technology at Hartsfield-Jackson. "ATL [Hartsfield-Jackson] was one of three airports where this technology was successfully tested," The TSA spokesman explained.

Besides automatically detecting potential threats, said Allen, the new software indicates their locations on a generic human outline, which appears on a monitor attached to the advanced imaging technology machine.

If a threat is identified in an area, it will need additional screening, he said. If no anomalies are highlighted in yellow squares, the word "OK" will appear on the monitor with no human outline.

"Our top priority is the safety of the traveling public, and TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," said John Pistole, administrator for TSA.

Allen said the new software was created L-3, the manufacturer of the millimeter wave advanced imaging technology units.

He said a total of 40 U.S. commercial airports housing millimeter wave units are currently experiencing the upgrade. This includes Hartsfield-Jackson. "We allocated $2.7 million to L-3 for development of this software as part of an existing contract," said Allen. "This amount covers deployment of the software to all machines currently in airports."