TSA dumping controversial airport scanners

Dayton already has the newer technology; Cincinnati, Columbus will get it by June 1

Controversial body scanning security machines used by 37 airports nationally, including Cincinnati and Columbus, will be replaced by newer technology by June 1, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

So-called “backscatter” scanners produce an accurate naked picture of a traveler’s body, which is viewed by a security officer in a separate room. Use of those scanners the past three years has raised privacy complaints.

TSA said in a statement Friday that Rapiscan, the maker of the backscatter machines, is unable to meet a June deadline from Congress to alter the machines. They will be replaced by new technology from L-3 Communications that changes a traveler’s image to a computer-generated outline of a person that is the same for every passenger.

Dayton International Airport already has L-3’s “millimeter-wave” scanning technology, which Cincinnati, Columbus and 35 other airports will get this year. Dayton switched to millimeter-wave scanners in August 2011, and airport officials confirmed Friday that their machines will not change.

“People were looking at it as invasion of privacy, and we don’t have that image anymore,” city of Dayton Aviation Director Terry Slaybaugh said Friday. “It just gives you a green light or red light. … We’ve been very happy with the performance of the equipment.”

A TSA official told the Dayton Daily News on Friday that the backscatter and millimeter-wave systems have the same capabilities to screen for both metallic and nonmetallic objects. But she said the wave system is faster because it does not require communication with a screener watching a monitor in a separate room.

She said while the wave technology does not display the exact image of a traveler’s body, it shows TSA officials a yellow box over the specific part of the body where a forbidden object is located.

The TSA official said the Cincinnati and Columbus airports are the only two in Ohio that currently use the backscatter technology. She said exact replacement dates had not been determined, but legislation requires that it occur by June 1.

The government rapidly stepped up its use of body scanners after a man snuck explosives onto a flight bound for Detroit on Christmas day in 2009. The TSA originally defended the scanners, saying body images couldn’t be stored and were seen only by a security worker who didn’t interact with the passenger.

Regardless of which technology is used, Slaybaugh said travelers can opt-out of going through the body scanner. But in that case, Slaybaugh said the person has to go through a type of metal detector, then “a more invasive pat-down.”

“That still happens occasionally,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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