TSA To Test Additional Personal Imaging Systems At Airports

By Calvin Biesecker

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) yesterday said it has awarded small lease contracts to three companies to pilot test their passenger imaging systems for secondary screening at security checkpoints at three airports in the coming months.

A total of $2.3 million in lease agreements have been signed with American Science and Engineering [ASEI], L-3 Communications [LLL] and OSI Systems [OSIS] Rapiscan division requiring each company to deliver five of their systems to TSA for testing in airports for up to six months. The contracts include options to purchase additional units.

AS&E and Rapiscan are providing their respective X-Ray backscatter imaging systems while L-3 is providing its active millimeter wave imaging system.

The select airports are John F. Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles International and Phoenix Sky Harbor in Arizona.

TSA has been pilot testing AS&E's SmartCheck X-Ray backscatter imaging system at Sky Harbor since February (Defense Daily, Feb. 27).

"Millimeter wave and backscatter expand our explosives detection capabilities at the checkpoint, and further testing will allow us to determine the role these technologies can play in the future," TSA Administrator Kip Hawley said in a statement.

The backscatter and millimeter wave systems display a lot of detail about a person's body to whoever is viewing the operator's display, but also allows screeners to search for bombs and weapons that may be hidden beneath a person's clothing without having to conduct pat down searches.

Under the ongoing and expanded pilot passenger imaging system pilot project, the images taken by the screening systems will be viewed remotely by operators who will not be able to see the live person being screened. Also, Transportation Security screeners assisting passengers at the imaging systems will not be able to view the images. Images will not be stored, transmitted or printed.

For L-3 and Rapiscan the leasing deals will be the first opportunities to field their respective systems at airports in the United States. L-3 is providing its ProVision system that is already in use by the U.S. military, some international airports and other customers. Rapiscan's Secure 1000 system is also being used by other customers, including London's Heathrow Airport.

Despite the privacy concerns with both backscatter and millimeter wave systems, TSA says that passengers at Sky Harbor have been choosing the backscatter system over a physical pat down by a wide margin.

The new passenger imaging system lease deals follow a similar leasing arrangement last month between TSA and several firms to supply new X-Ray imaging systems to screen carry-on baggage at airport checkpoints. L-3, Rapiscan and Smiths Detection are each supplying their respective multi-view X-Ray systems that allow screeners to have multiple views of the contents of carry-on bags during a single pass. And to various degrees each companies' system has automated explosives detection capabilities.