TSA to expand automated screening program.

Posted by Mike on 2011.07.29

The TSA has been testing out a computer program that takes the place of manual visual inspection of the dreaded high-def “nudie” scan.

What this computer program does is look for “anomalous” indications on the image. While we don’t know the specifications of how the program determines what is anomalous and what is normal, we know that it has been tested for the last few months at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Reagan National.

In the event that it does detect an anomalous reading it flags the operator and provides an indicator on a strange stick figure, which reminds me of the old cybermen from Dr. Who (not the new cybermen, but the old 70′s and 80′s cybermen), image of an area to be manually checked.

From what I see, though “Blogger Bob & Pals” hadn’t clarified last time I checked, there doesn’t appear to be a need for the security agent to perform a hands on check beyond the “flagged” area.

As usual the agent is given some leeway and I suspect that they have been told that if they feel the need they can perform a full pat down. This is simply my speculation and I have no hard evidence to back it up.

The software is expected to be rolled out to all the currently deployed millimeter wave AIT machines and plans for testing a similar program with the back scatter AIT machines are apparently in the works.

  • So what does this do for health concerns?

Nothing. The use of an automated system to interpret an image should have little, if any impact on a passenger being exposed to the screening environment. One TSA agent actually tried to tell me that if anything it reduces the amount of radiation received from the external environment because of the shielding.

  • What does it do for privacy concerns?

It takes out at least one possible privacy concern, that of the immediate operator. It doesn’t address other privacy concerns such as whether or not the images themselves are being stored for testing, quality assurance or later criminal proceedings.

  • So there will be no agent monitoring in a separate room?

I ssoooo didn’t say that! There isn’t a need to be one, but from a technical point of view I don’t see why they _couldn’t_ present the image on a remote system. Perhaps a supervisor watching his agents and validating screen results? What about a technician verifying test scenarios? Really there is bound to be at least one or two valid scenarios that a person submitting to a screening might have to concede too.

  • Will it prevent you from going through a pat down?

No. Just as with agent screened images if there is an anomalous result then the TSA agents will still have to manually check the person being screened. As I mentioned before it should reduce the need for pat downs and possibly could require that only a specific area be checked.

To date I have only done the Advanced Imaging system twice at Detroit and I have opted out or gone through a metal detector since. The first time that I went through the AIT system at Detroit I actually had to go through a pat down. Being a larger guy I apparently naturally “obscured” something. Or the agents were screwing around. As to whether or not I will change my approach I haven’t decided on a long term plan of action.

For the time being I will continue to opt out of the AIT systems until I have learned more, but if they can address the concern about the systems being capable (and required for acquisition!) of storing images then I might just start doing the millimeter wave systems.

I am staying away from the back scatter X-ray machines. I don’t care if they claim that you get more radiation from a banana (One of the studies they use actually compared radiation with that from a banana. It seems that I have seen this before too. hmmmm…)

Checkout the TSA Blog entry for more information about the new program:

As a side note you should check out the following diagram from xkcd: http://xkcd.com/radiation/

And a banana does possess a level of ionized radiation because of the large does of potassium. One interesting note to this is that the body requires potassium and will self regulate the amount of potassium it contains. Radiation doses are measured in a metric universe by a  seivert unit. Back scatter machine studies say the X-Ray machines emit .05 to .09 seiverts and a banana is .1 seivert.

Millimeter wave machines use non-ionizing radiation.

- Mike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


× seven = 7

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Speaking at UTOSC 2012 Member of The Internet Defense League