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Less-intrusive scanners debut at TIA

Whitney Bryant was aware of privacy concerns about airport body scanners. So the newlywed felt a little squeamish Thursday morning at Tampa International Airport as she faced going through what some call a digital strip search.

She asked how revealing an image the machine would produce, and was relieved to find out there was no image of her body. Just a gray generic form on a screen she could see for herself.

"For a girl, it could make you feel a little uncomfortable," said Bryant, 26, who was returning home to Lubbock, Texas, from a Florida honeymoon. "This is a lot better. It's like my privacy isn't invaded as much."

She was among the first batch of Tampa International passengers to go through machines equipped with new software that makes the searches less intrusive.

TIA is the first Florida airport to get the upgrade, said Gary Milano, the Transportation Security Administration's federal security director for Tampa Bay. All 12 scanners at the airport will be converted in a week or so.

St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton Airport will follow in a few weeks, Milano said.

The upgraded machines produce a generic gray outline of a human form for each passenger on a screen attached to the scanning booth. Some workers have nicknamed the image "The Gumby." Potential weapons or explosives show up as yellow boxes located on the figure.

With the older technology, travelers step inside a scanner that creates an X-ray-like image of their bodies beneath the outer layer of clothes. A TSA officer in a remote room examines the 3-D picture and passes along the results to an officer at the machine.

In a demonstration on a TSA officer, the machine alerted on a pants pocket that held a lighter, a pack of cigarettes and a set of earbud headphones.

"This provides the same level of security, and it (addresses) privacy concerns some passengers had," Milano said.

Travelers have a roughly 50-50 chance of going through the scanners. Officers will direct passengers to the machines whenever they're not in use, Milano said. Otherwise, they'll walk through a metal detector.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Less-intrusive scanners debut at TIA 08/11/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 12, 2011 11:44am]
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