Portland Jetport to start using updated full-body scanners

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PORTLAND — New full-body scanners will be added to security checkpoints at Portland International Jetport next month.

Jetport Director Paul Bradbury said the new scanners do not raise the same privacy questions as earlier versions.

The federal Transportation Security Administration began using walk-through, full-body scanners in 2007. They have since become an integral tool in airport security.

But those machines produced detailed, anatomically correct images of passengers, leading to a public outcry about privacy . The images were so detailed, they had to be viewed in private.

Bradbury said the scanners to be deployed at the Jetport will have newer  software, which does not produce such detailed images of passengers.

“There is no image that anybody sees that … has the person unclothed,” he said.

Instead, the scanners produce generic body images. If something suspicious is detected on the passenger, the area where the suspicious object is located is highlighted on the screen. TSA agents will then be able to investigate further.

According to a TSA press release, the Advanced Imaging Technology units can detect metallic and non-nonmetallic objects, including weapons and explosives, concealed under clothing.

The scanners use wave technology, rather than x-rays, so Bradbury said passengers will not be subjected to radioactive emissions.

The TSA says the technology has lead to the detection of “hundreds” of prohibited, illegal or dangerous items nationwide since January 2010.

But the scanners may be too sensitive, sometimes detecting folds in clothing, pockets, buttons and even sweat as a threat.

According to an investigation by Pro Publica, France and Germany have stopped using the new scanners because of the high rate of false positives. In Germany, 54 percent of all airline passengers were flagged by the scanner as a threat, but no weapons were found upon further investigation.

TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said Portland will receive three scanners, worth $130,000 to $170,000.

The Jetport currently relies on metal detectors and enhanced physical searches to maintain security.

“Security is important to protect our national aviation system,” Bradbury said. “This is a great new tool.”

The new scanners will not replace the metal detectors, he said, but will allow passengers to avoid enhanced pat downs, which some people consider invasive. Passengers who would rather be patted down than scanned can choose that option, too

The TSA purchased 300 of the new scanners in September. There are about 540 units at more than 100 airports nationwide. Nearly 500 more scanners are expected to be purchased over the next few years.

Bangor International Airport was also approved for the new technology.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings