Passengers virtually stripped naked by 3-D airport scanner

The airport in Kelowna, B.C., will be the first in Canada to test a new type of passenger scanner that creates a three-dimensional image of people's bodies.
A passenger raises her hands above her head as she is scanned by the machine. ((CBC))

The airport in Kelowna, B.C., will be the first in Canada to test a new type of passenger scanner that creates a three-dimensional image of people's bodies.

The new body imager unveiled on Thursday uses high frequency electromagnetic waves known as millimetre waves to create a detailed 3-D image of what a person looks like underneath their clothes.

The security guard operating the machine only sees a simplified image on a computer screen that indicates where ceramic weapons and plastic explosives or other suspicious items might be concealed.

But in a separate, private room, another officer sees the full detailed black and white image of the person's body.

To be scanned, a passenger simply steps inside a glass pod the size of a large phone booth and puts up his arms above his head.

"The paddles rotate around the body. The radio frequency penetrates the clothing … bounces off the skin and gives … a 3-D holographic image of the body," said Ian McNaugton, the National Sales Manager for L3 Communications, which makes the machines.

Security personnel dealing directly with passengers will see images like this these. ((CBC))

If any suspicious items are identified, the passenger is then checked with a conventional security pat down, McNaughton said.

Ron McAdam, who manages technology and testing for the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, spent months working with Canada's privacy commissioner to make sure the scanner complies with privacy rules.

"The images themselves are not saved.... They are deleted immediately once the passenger is cleared," said McAdam, who added that the security guard who sees the detailed image never sees the actual passenger.

In addition, passengers don't have to use the machine, McAdam said. If they have concerns, they can use regular screening lines instead.

Body image concerns some

Outside the airport, passengers gave the machine mixed reviews. Hugo Tinno said he would not volunteer. "I think it shows a little bit too much."

Security personnel in a separate room will see detailed 3-D scans like these. ((CBC))

But Deena Kamozi, who had just dropped off her 14-year-old son, said anything that makes flying safer is a good thing.

"I'm not a big fan of flying anyway, so the safer I feel, the better," she said.

Kamozi said she had no privacy concerns about the body image.

"Not if it's going to protect my family on the plane."

The trial of the $200,000 machine will last until January, after which Transport Canada will decide whether to use the scanner at other Canadian airports.

The low-level radio frequency is safer than a cellphone, which use radio frequencies a thousand times stronger, according to McNaugton.

Other airports around the world, including in Los Angeles, New York City, Moscow and Osaka, are already using the millimetre wave technology, but the machine being testing at Kelowna International is the first in the world to combine the body imaging with a metal detector, McNaugton said.