This morning in Las Vegas, where people go to roll the dice and play their luck, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began testing L3 Systems ProVision ATD software loaded into their Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) millimeter wave technology scanners.
The current generation of AIT scanner software in use in by the TSA has been highly controversial in that its display depicts a detailed image of the passenger’s body for a TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) reviewing the scanner images. While the images render a person unidentifiable, many feel that the scanners are an invasion of their privacy. The privacy issues of the TSA AIT scanners prompted the AIT scanners to be nicknamed “nude-o-scopes.”
The new AIT scanner software being tested in the field was developed by L3 Systems, and modified in conjunction with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate. This new software is generates a far less detailed image, creating a generic ‘cartoonish’ image, of the person being scanned, placing a yellow box with a red outline on the image of a person in the vicinity of an object has been detected. Once a detection box has been placed on an image, the person passing through the scanner is pulled aside for secondary screening, for a TSO to check the area around where the box appeared on the image of the person.
The L3 Systems ProVision ATD software offers some advantages over the current software loaded into millimeter wave scanners, in addition to the changes in the screening images it generates, including increased speed. The advantages to changing the scanner software includes the capability of screening upwards of 350 people per hour and the automatic detection of different materials. The sensitivity of the automatic detection in this software includes identifying liquids, gels, ceramics, powders, etc, as well as determining other specific prohibited items.
The deployment of the L3 Systems ProVision ATD software by the TSA raises some questions however. The crucial question is why is the TSA only now testing a less invasive and faster passenger processing software solution that was previously developed by L3 Systems and has been in use for approximately 18 months at Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport?
While the TSA states “TSA worked with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Science & Technology Directorate (S&T) and private industry to develop the software,” having spoken with someone who has hands-on experience with the software, it would seem that the software is nearly identical. Yes, L3 Systems tweaked the software to meet TSA specifications, however the comments from a person with hands-on knowledge of the software states the differences are “minor cosmetic modifications,” but would not further elaborate on that comment.
As the TSA battles with Congress over its budget and justifying its expenses, there is the looming question of what the costs were to “develop” a software that already existed, in addition to the TSA’s desire to double the number of AIT scanners it has placed in airports by the end of 2011, with an estimated cost of US$170,000 per unit.
This new images created by the AIT scanner software should appease many who oppose the AIT scanners as a violation of their personal privacy, however it does not address the health concerns by many travelers. The TSA plans to extend the testing of the new L3 Systems ProVision ATD software from Las Vegas into Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport and Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport in the next few days.
Below is a sample image of the TSA’s new L3 Systems ProVision ATD software detecting items on a person being scanned in a millimeter wave scanner.