Friday, December 09, 2011

Anchorage International Airport Unveils New Millimeter Wave Full-Body Scanners For Passenger Screening, AFTUSA Shows Up To Protest

On December 9th, 2011, the new full-body passenger scanners which do not present a form-fitting human outline were unveiled at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Four of them have been installed in Anchorage, and scanners will also be installed at Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan. However, one group, Alaskans' Freedom to Travel USA (AFTUSA), showed up to mount an orderly protest. Alaska Dispatch has a particularly detailed story, while the Anchorage Daily News published its own standard report, with a gallery of 11 photos HERE.

Summary: Instead of using low level X-ray beams to create the virtual image of an individual which stirred up so much controversy, these new scanners, which cost $150,000 each, use millimeter-wave technology that relies on bouncing radio waves off of a person's body. Using radio waves eliminates the radiation caused by the old backscatter machines. As a result, only a general outline of a person appears, with a yellow box depicting any "anomalies", defined as bumps or objects that the scanner deems unusual for a person's body. The scanners will neither store nor transmit any images of passengers, like those shown in the screenshot below. TSA provides more details HERE.

How It Works: A traveler passing through security checkpoint will still need to remove shoes and empty their pockets, and their belongings are sent through an X-ray machine. The person then steps into the scanner's see-through enclosure, raises his arms and two sensors rotate around his body, emitting electromagnetic waves. A display screen at the exit, viewable by both the passenger and a TSA agent, flashes green and "OK" if the person has nothing concealed on their body, otherwise a yellow box appears highlighting any anomaly. Anomalies will have to be resolved with a targeted patdown, which can be done on the spot or in private.

The old metal detectors are still installed next to the new scanners. While the new scanners will eventually become the default form of screening, the old detectors will be retained for overflow situations to speed up processing. Alaska Dispatch noted that there is some concern about false positives with the millimeter-wave machines; Germany has held off on deploying even the millimeter-wave scanners due to a false positive rate approaching 50 percent in some German media reports, including underarm sweat showing up as an anomaly.

The possibility of false positives, among other objections, attracted the attention of AFTUSA, which showed up to express their concerns. AFTUSA was downstairs from the security checkpoint; their people carried anti-TSA signs and even offered cookies, some shaped like TSA's trademark blue gloves and others, gingerbread men, dubbed "G-men." But the group appeared less concerned with the scanners than with any resultant patdowns. Patricia Anderson maintains that nobody should be touched for any reason, and that there are lingering concerns about the long-term health effects of millimeter-wave machines. AFTUSA has posted more extensive discussion on their Facebook page.

Rep. Sharon Cissna, who took a ferry from Seattle to Juneau to avoid being subjected to a patdown after a full-body scanner revealed her mastectomy, is still not satisfied, and has no intention of flying in the near future. Because her prosthesis will always show up, she's concerned she will be singled out for a patdown every time she flies. She wants to know why are we constantly picking on the same people over and over again when we're supposed to be looking for terrorists. A legitimate question -- should people with prosthetic appliances be asked to make a disproportionate sacrifice for the War on Terror? Is the War on Terror still important enough to even ask for such a sacrifice? That's a decision each person must make individually.

1 comment:

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