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Sen. Tom Udall Headshot

Protecting Privacy at the Airport

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Around the holidays last year, we saw significant public concern about personal privacy at our nation's airports. At the time, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had expanded screening measures at security checkpoints in airports like the Albuquerque Sunport.

The new standard became Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) or whole body scanners, which produce highly revealing body images of the individual being screened. If you refuse an AIT scan, the alternative is a full body pat-down -- also hardly ideal for personal privacy.

I asked New Mexicans to share their thoughts with me on this issue. In more than 7,000 email responses, my constituents overwhelmingly expressed concern about these TSA screening procedures.

To address these concerns, I've put forward a practical proposal that meets current airport security standards while helping travelers maintain personal privacy.

New software can be installed on existing scanners to replace passenger-specific pictures with a generic, non-identifiable outline of the person being screened. I have offered an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill that would require this software to be installed on existing scanners nationwide within a year.

Advanced Imaging Technology Currently In Use

The body images produced at airport checkpoints are highly revealing and many passengers are justifiably uncomfortable being screened by the technology. Today, this is the kind of image AIT screening creates:

Current Imaging Technology

Proposed Automatic Target Recognition Software

Sophisticated Automatic Target Recognition software can be installed nationwide on existing AIT machines. By eliminating passenger-specific images, this software protects privacy while using smart technology to detect and pinpoint the location of any concealed objects and alert TSA personnel. This is the kind of image this software creates:

Proposed Imaging Technology

This month, the TSA is beginning to field-test the program in Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Washington, D.C., and similar software is already being used abroad.

With existing technology, we can enforce airport security without sacrificing our personal privacy. By imposing a deadline for the transition to this software, we will ensure that the TSA and manufacturers have ample time to test and make any necessary modifications while preventing unnecessary delays for its implementation.

Sen. Tom Udall is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.