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RDU's Full-Body Scanners Aim to Protect Privacy

Example of the image produced by the scanners

Raleigh-Durham International Airport is beefing up its security with new imaging technology designed to protect passenger privacy. The Transportation Security Administration is installing five new scanners at RDU. They should be up and running in the next few days. RDU's TSA Federal Security Director Michael Zunk says previous scanners allowed security to see a detailed image of a person's body.

Michael Zunk: "Where this one here is just kind of a cookie-cutter. It's a generic image of a male or a female. And thereby the passenger themselves, or herself can look at the image to see where the anomaly is. The pilot programs in Atlanta and in Las Vegas and Ronald Reagan in Washington have been very successful in discovering anomalies on a passenger that would be trying to bring something in. Now it's also going to find if you have your wallet, your cell phones, and everything else. But it's been very good about picking up any contraband, illegal items, items on the prohibited item list."

When someone steps into the scanner, a generic image of a person appears on the screen. A yellow box shows any areas on the person where the scanner picked up an item. That could be something as harmless as a wallet or as dangerous as a gun. An "OK" appears on the screen if nothing is detected. Jon Allen with the TSA says the scanning process itself is safe.

Jon Allen: "The technology that's here at RDU, the millimeter wave, what that does, it bounces harmless electromagnetic waves off the body. What's reflected back then, the software conducts that analysis. The amount of energy that's involved in these machines is 1/10,000th the amount that's permitted for use with a cell phone. So it's very low-energy."

Zunk says the scanners should make security checks faster because it will be easier for officials to identify foreign objects on a passenger.

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