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TSA Quietly Replacing X-ray Scanners In Major U.S. Airports

Aired 10/22/12 on KPBS News.

The Transportation Security Administration is quietly replacing controversial full-body x-ray scanners at some airports around the country. But, they remain at San Diego's Lindbergh Field, for now.

The Transportation Security Administration is quietly replacing controversial full-body X-ray scanners at some airports around the country.

An X-ray scan of a woman.
Enlarge this image

Above: An X-ray scan of a woman.

But they remain at San Diego's Lindbergh Field. For now.

There are 10 full-body X-ray scanners in operation at Lindbergh. They create detailed images of passengers that don't leave much to the imagination. The scan process is relatively slow because the image must be relayed to a TSA screener in a private room.

The airport scanners were installed nearly two years ago, and since then, critics have complained the machines pose both privacy and health concerns.

The news site ProPublica reports that in busier U.S. airports, the TSA has been replacing the original X-ray scanners with devices that use low-energy radio waves that some say are safer. And these new devices, called millimeter wave machines, don't create graphic images of each passenger. The images are generic outlines that are the same for everyone, alleviating privacy issues.

The TSA says the original models were not removed for safety or privacy reasons, but because the new machines move passengers through security faster.

"The goal that we have with the millimeter wave machines is to take the image that was previously seen in a private room and put the image at the security checkpoint so there's no wireless communication with somebody sitting in a distant room," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. "The image is resolved right then and there by the officer."

The TSA is mum on whether the full-scan X-ray machines will be replaced in San Diego.

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