Travelers at U.S. airports in the future might not worry about the creepiest part of security screening: that officer in a booth studying what's under your clothes.
The two companies that sell whole-body scanners to the Transportation Security Administration are supplying the agency with software that highlights potential weapons on a generic figure instead of an image of a passenger's body.
Scanners now blur out faces and private parts of passengers. Eliminating body images could quiet privacy advocates who call the scans "a digital strip search.''
"TSA continues to explore additional privacy protections for imaging technology,'' said Sari Koshetz, a TSA spokeswoman, in an e-mail. "Testing is currently under way.''
There are 200 scanners operating in 51 U.S. airports. Tampa International Airport got the machines at the end of 2008. The TSA stepped up use of scanners after Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet approaching Detroit on Dec. 25 with explosives hidden in his underwear.
L-3 Communications assembles scanners sold to the TSA and other customers in a St. Petersburg plant. A model with the automatic detection software that displays the generic figure, the ProVision ADT, operates at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport.
"We look forward to a successful trial and certification process with the TSA this fall,'' said Bill Frain, senior vice president for government sales.
Don't get too eager. The TSA won't comment on a time line for approving the new technology. A former agency official told Bloomberg News it would take months.
"There's still a long way to go,'' said Jeffrey Sural, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former assistant administrator for legislative affairs.
Steve Huettel can be reached at [email protected] or (813)226-3384.