10/23/2012 01:42 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

'X-Ray' Airport Body Scanners Going Away At O'Hare, Other Major Cities

Faster lines and less-invasive security screenings are on the horizon for passengers traveling through O'Hare International Airport.

The TSA announced Monday it will phase out the controversial "X-ray" body scanners from O'Hare and four other major airports in favor of millimeter wave Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines that render a generic human body outline.

The Chicago Tribune reports that according to TSA spokesman Luis Casanova, the new scanners can screen a person in as little as 10 seconds and pose fewer radiation concerns.

The new AIT machines don't map a passenger's body in as much detail, instead detecting possible threats underneath clothing. If a threat is detected, an orange square highlighting the object in question appears on the screen.

Twenty-nine new machines will replace all 23 of O'Hare's older, bulkier scanners will be removed, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. Per the Tribune, the TSA estimates O'Hare will have up to 14 of the new scanners up and running by Thanksgiving. A mix of the backscatter and AIT machines will be used until all of the old machines have been replaced.

“What comes up is a computer-generated image that’s the same for everyone — kind of like an outline of a person," Cassanova told the Sun-Times of the new machines. "If you forgot to remove your cell phone from your pocket, it shows up as a yellow box around that area. The officer knows where to search, and you’ll be able to see why he’s targeting that area."

The transition to the new machines started in September and will be complete in January at O'Hare, Los Angeles' LAX, Orlando International, Boston's Logan Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The current backscatter advanced image technology X-ray machines have been widely criticized, with the ACLU comparing the technology to "virtual strip searches." Other worries about radiation have been raised, though the TSA allows travelers to undergo a full body pat-down as an alternative to the scanners.

Both the backscatter devices and the pat-downs have caused controversy for the TSA and headaches and humiliation for air travelers ever since they were introduced after "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a U.S. airliner near Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

As for the old backscatter devices, they're not going away entirely: TSA officials have said the devices will be relocated to airports with less traffic and lighter passenger loads -- including Chicago's Midway airport.



TSA Controversy