New airport scanners at PBIA no longer display naked images

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Passengers at Palm Beach International Airport will no longer have naked-looking scanner images of their bodies taken as they pass through security checkpoints.

As a result of complaints about the practice, the Transportation Security Administration is installing software that allows the scanners to electronically peek underneath passengers' clothes without creating what appears to be a naked image.

"It was an effort to make passengers even more comfortable," said Sari Koshetz, a Miami-based TSA spokeswoman. "We felt we had strict privacy protocols in place already. This raises it to a higher level."

The software, installed in PBIA's six body-scanning machines last week, instead displays a generic outline of a human body.

The image is the same for every person that goes through the machine, and it is only displayed if the scanner detects a hidden object under a passenger's clothing. A yellow box highlights area on the body where the object was discovered, and that security officers would perform a pat-down.

If no object is detected, the word "OK," with no body image, appears on the scanner's screen.

"We know commercial aviation remains a top terrorist target," Koshetz said. "The threat's real and it is evolving. Therefore we must continue to evolve as an agency and we need to continue to evolve our technology."

The old software produced a black-and-white image of the passenger's unclothed body, similar to an X-ray. The faces of the passengers were blurred for privacy, and the images were viewed by security agents in a remote room.

Critics, however, complained the image was too revealing and left little to the imagination.

In response to the complaints, the TSA began working with privacy experts to develop the new software.

Palm Beach International is the third airport in the state to get the privacy software. It is already being used in Miami and Tampa, Koshetz said.

Over the next few months, the TSA plans to install the new software on all 241 millimeter wave scanners in use at airports across the country, including Florida airports in Melbourne, Jacksonville, and St. Petersburg.

The new software doesn't work on the machines in use in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, which employ a different technology. Testing is set to begin on a software program for those machines in the fall, Koshetz said.

The TSA started using the full-body scanning machines at PBIA last year.

A month later, a website began organizing a national revolt against the security measure. The website urged passengers not to go through the scanners on the day before Thanksgiving -- one of the busiest travel days of the year.

Pilot unions for American Airlines and US Airways have also suggested pilots avoid the scanners, raising concerns about the safety of the machines.

The TSA contends the machines are safe. Energy projected by the body scanners is thousands of times less than a cell phone transmission, according to the agency.

In May, House Republicans controlling the TSA's purse strings began pushing to cut off funding for new scanners. Lawmakers said the move was sparked by budgetary concerns rather than protests from privacy activists.

Koshetz said the new software has eliminated the need to view the images in a remote location. A room set aside at PBIA for agents to view images will instead be used for private screenings, she added.

Passengers who are uncomfortable with the scanner can refuse to pass through it. In those cases, security officers will use alternative screening measures, including pat-downs.

Reaction to the new software was mixed at PBIA on Friday.

Treasure Coast resident Dianne Ruggeri said she welcomed the new, more private images.

"I look forward to the change," said Ruggeri, who was headed to New Jersey. "It is a happy medium."

Boca Raton resident Anthony Pesci said he didn't care which image the machine produced, as long as it improved safety.

"It doesn't bother me," Pesci said of the machines. "If it is for security, I have no problem."