Travelers boarding flights at Columbia Metropolitan Airport soon will pass through a new $150,000 full-body scanner installed this week at the airport’s security checkpoint.
But those worried about screeners seeing images of their bodies beneath their clothes can relax. The scanners that caused outrage among some travelers nationwide two years ago have been modified so only a generic body image is shown.
That was welcome news to Carolyn Williams, arriving in the Columbia airport Friday from Pensacola, Fla.
“I think this (new technology) is acceptable, instead of them showing your body. Nobody wants their privacy invaded if they’re showing your body to somebody you don’t know,” she said.
The Transportation Security Administration recently outfitted the Columbia airport with one of 300 such scanners that are being installed at airports around the country. If a passenger attempts to pass through the scanner with an item that is a security threat — whether it is metallic or non-metallic, a weapon or an explosive — the new millimeter wave machine is designed to pick it up.
The machine will highlight with a yellow box the location on the generic body shape of the suspicious security item, which will prompt the passenger to be hand-searched by a same-sex Transportation Security Administration employee, officials said.
And not all passengers will go through the body scanner. The airport will maintain its metal scanners that are in place now, and a TSA official will randomly divert some passengers through the scanner line as they approach security, while others will proceed through the metal detectors.
Passengers can opt out of the scan and undergo a pat-down, officials said.
Airport employees were being trained on the new scanners Friday and the new equipment will be operational next week, according to TSA spokesman Jonathan Allen.
The new scanners also have been deployed in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Augusta, Ga., Allen said. At airports such as Charlotte-Douglas in North Carolina, where full-body scanners are in place that use the controversial backscatter X-ray scanning technology to screen passengers, retrofitted upgrades are planned.
The TSA has come under harsh criticism in some cases for using the X-ray technology, which shows body images beneath clothing. Female air passengers have been particularly vocal in criticism of the scanners, but TSA officials said Friday they have been working on a suitable upgrade for years.
“The privacy software has actually been in development for some time,” Allen said. “Even as we began to deploy the machines we were working with the manufacturer on the privacy software.
“What we needed to ensure was that there was no compromise in security involving that software — that it would be equally as effective as the original process of having an image generated and having an officer look at that to try to determine whether or not there may be an anomaly.”
The TSA has deployed about 600 advanced imaging technology units at about 140 airports nationwide, Allen said. The machine at the Columbia airport is part of a purchase of 300 additional machines.
Columbia Metropolitan Airport spokesperson Lynn Douglass said once travelers realize the scanners have been modified to produce only a generic image, they won’t be as anxious about being screened.
Brian Brandenburg, an Army recruiter departing from the Columbia airport for California on Friday, said he didn’t care what type of scanner was used as long as his flight was secure.
“I travel a lot,” he said. “Whatever keeps us safe.”