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ACLU says new airport scanning is step toward enhancing privacy

By Rosemarie Bernardo

LAST UPDATED: 9:28 a.m. HST, Jul 22, 2011

New software that will eliminate detailed images of passengers on body-scanning monitors at Honolulu Airport is a significant step toward enhancing privacy, says a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. Still, the ACLU said it remains concerned about scanned images and pat-downs.

In the next couple of weeks, the Transportation Security Administration will begin installing "automated target recognition" software to scanners that use millimeter-wave technology. The image will show a generic outline of a passenger rather than the detailed, X-ray-like image now viewed through monitors by security officers.

Six scanners at the Honolulu Airport are among 241 units at airports across the country to receive the new software. Installation is expected to be completed by September, TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.

Stanford Miyamoto, acting federal security director for Honolulu, said if the scanner detects an anomaly, a yellow box will appear on the screen over the affected area of the passenger outline. The screened passenger will be able to view the same image on a monitor as the security officer. TSA officials said a separate officer will no longer be required to view the image in an enclosed viewing room.

Miyamoto said complaints of the body scanners are infrequent and that the public, for the most part, understands why they are necessary. Of the new software, he said, "I think this is good progress the TSA is making to address privacy concerns."

Laurie Temple, ACLU Hawaii staff attorney, said she still has questions about the new software and noted travelers are still subjected to intrusive pat-downs, which a number of travelers equate to being sexually assaulted. Since the scanners were installed at the Honolulu and Lihue Airports last year, the ACLU have received dozens of complaints of the "invasive pat-downs and naked body scans," Temple said.

Testing of new software for body scanners that use backscatter technology such as the one used at the Lihue Airport on Kauai will begin this fall. Hawaii island and Maui airports do not yet have full-body scanners.

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