The Transportation Security Administration has installed four advanced imaging systems in Terminal A and will install another four in Terminal B by the end of the month. Congress mandated the TSA to invest in this kind of technology after the events of Sept. 11.
The specific screening devices at Mineta San Jose use Backscatter Advanced Imaging Technology. Basically, the passenger holds up their hands and is scanned using low level x-ray beams which create a reflection of the body. The resulting image looks like a chalk etching and is viewed in another room.
TSA Federal Security Director Kathleen Roscher says the equipment is safe for everyone, including children and pregnant women.
"The exposure in this type of equipment is equivalent to a passenger traveling in an aircraft for two minutes at altitude, so it has passed all national health and safety standards," Roscher said.
The TSA also says there are a number of safeguards in place to protect privacy. The officer watching the passenger walk through the scanner never sees the resulting image and the officer viewing the image in a remote room never sees the passenger. The face and private areas of the passenger are also automatically blurred. What the backscatter image does detect is any metallic or non-matallic object such as a weapon or explosives.
"The machine cannot store this image and can't transmit it anywhere, and can't print it. The machine does not in any way have any storage capacity," TSA spokesperson Dwayne Baird said.
San Jose's four new advanced imaging machines bring the nationwide total to 97. By the end of the year, the TSA says 500 will be deployed in airports across the country. Each machine costs about $170,000 and is purchased using federal stimulus money.
Any passenger who prefers not to walk through the advanced technology has the option of equivalent screening that involves the more traditional metal detector and low-tech pat-down search.