Innovation & Technology
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was founded after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to protect our nation's transportation systems and keep the traveling public safe. At TSA, the testing and use of emerging technology is critical to achieving that mission and staying ahead of known threats to transportation security.
Since 2007, TSA piloted state-of-the-art advanced imaging technologies that can detect a wide range of threats to transportation security in a matter of seconds at airports across the country to protect passengers and crews. This imaging technology is an integral part of TSA's effort to continually look for new technologies that help ensure travel remains safe and secure by staying ahead of evolving threats.
Currently, there are 40 millimeter wave imaging technology units in use at 19 airports. Six machines are used as primary screening at six airports and 34 machines are used for secondary, or random screening, as an alternative to a pat down at 13 airports.
TSA has tested both millimeter wave and backscatter imaging and announced that it plans to purchase an additional 150 backscatter units.
Use of advanced imaging technology is optional to all passengers.
How the Technology Works
- Millimeter wave technology beams millimeter wave radio frequency (RF) energy in the advanced imaging spectrum over the body's surface at high speed from two antennas simultaneously as they rotate around the body.
- The energy reflected back from the body or other objects on the body is used to construct a three-dimensional image.
- The three-dimensional image, with facial features blurred for privacy, is displayed on a remote monitor for analysis.
- Backscatter technology uses low level X-ray to create a two-sided image.
- TSA is testing backscatter with an algorithm applied to the entire image to further protect passenger privacy.
Protecting Passenger Privacy
- Strict privacy safeguards are built into the foundation of TSA’s use of advanced imaging technology to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity.
- The officer who assists the passenger never sees the image the technology produces.
- The officer who views the image is remotely located, in a secure resolution room and never sees the passenger.
- To further protect passenger privacy, millimeter wave technology blurs all facial features and backscatter has an algorithm applied to the entire image.
- The two officers communicate via wireless headset. Once the remotely located officer determines threat items are not present, that officer communicates wirelessly to the officer assisting the passenger. The passenger may then continue through the security process.
- This state-of-the-art technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image. In fact, all machines are delivered to airports with these functions disabled.
- Officers evaluating images are not permitted to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room.
- Each image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer.
What are my Options?
- These technologies are optional for all passengers.
- Passengers who do not wish to utilize this screening receive an equal level of screening and undergo a pat-down procedure.
- Multiple signs informing passengers about the technology, including sample images, are displayed in plain sight at the security checkpoints, in front of the advanced imaging units.
- Many passengers prefer advanced imaging technology. In fact, over 98 percent of passengers who encounter this technology during TSA pilots prefer it over other screening options.
- Additionally, passengers with joint replacements or other medical devices that would regularly alarm a metal detector often prefer this technology because it is quicker and less-invasive than a pat down.
Where It Is
- Albuquerque International Sunport Airport (Primary)
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Secondary)
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (Secondary)
- Denver International Airport (Secondary)
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (Secondary)
- Detroit Metro Airport (Secondary)
- Indianapolis International Airport (Secondary)
- Jacksonville International Airport (Secondary)
- McCarran International Airport (Primary and Secondary)
- Los Angeles International Airport (Secondary)
- Miami International Airport (Primary and Secondary)
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (Secondary)
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport (Secondary)
- Richmond International Airport (Secondary)
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (Secondary)
- San Francisco International Airport (Primary)
- Salt Lake City International Airport (Primary)
- Tampa International Airport (Secondary)
- Tulsa International Airport (Primary and Secondary)
What to Expect
- Each passenger will walk into the imaging portal. Once inside, they will be asked to stand in different positions and remain still for just a few moments while the technology creates an image of the passenger in real time.
- Once complete, the passenger will exit the opposite side of the portal.
- Advanced imaging technology does not store, print, transmit or save the image. All machines have zero storage capability and all images are automatically deleted from the system after they are reviewed by the remotely located security officer.
What TSA Sees
- Millimeter wave technology produces an image that resembles a fuzzy photo negative.
- Backscatter technology produces an image that resembles a chalk etching.
- Both technologies are viewed by a Transportation Security Officer in a remote, secure location.
- This walk-through imaging technology efficiently detects metallic and non-metallic threats, including weapons, explosives and other items that a passenger is carrying on his/her person, without physical contact.
- For comparison, the energy projected by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission.
- We, and all objects around us, generate millimeter wave energy - and we are exposed to it every single day.
- Backscatter technology uses low level X-ray and a single scan is the equivalent of two minutes of flying on an airplane.
Other Advanced Imaging Technology deployments
- Federal Court House (VA)
- Colorado Springs Court House (CO)
- Department of Corrections facility (PA)
- Los Angeles County Court House (CA)
- Cook County Court House (IL)
- Douglas County Colorado Justice Center
- Montana State Prison
- Utah State Correctional Facility
- Advanced imaging technology is used in hundreds of locations, including aviation and mass transit environments, in the United States and in countries around the world.
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