Airport Body Scanners: Less Invasive Technology is Out There

A Transportation Security Administration officer views a full-body scan during a demonstration of passenger screening technology, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2009, at the TSA Systems Integration Facility in Arlington, Va. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Airport body scan at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Airport body scan at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

By CBS News Investigative Producer Laura Strickler

Scanning technology exists today that would project only a "stick figure" image of a passenger to a TSA screener and minimize any exposure to radiation according to three U.S. Senators.

The technology known as "automated target recognition" is in use at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport. 

Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) wrote a letter to the TSA back in April  asking for the technology to be used in the United States.

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In an email, TSA Spokesperson James Fotenos told CBS that TSA is testing out the new technology "which would transmit images only when an alarm is triggered" but the agency said, "the current version of automated threat detection technologies does not meet TSA's detection standards. TSA sees automated threat detection as a viable option for the future."

TSA included that "software development is currently underway and will be followed by testing to ensure effective detection."

Senator Collins raised the issue at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on aviation security earlier this week, complaining that "the department's responses to my inquiries have been inadequate," she said.

Collins conceded that TSA Administrator John Pistole was on his way to review Amsterdam's new technology when his plans were derailed by the recent attempted bombing of a US cargo plane.

Privacy concerns have been raised about the scanners as well as fears of radiation exposure.

The TSA says the radiation risk from the scanners is minimal. They define the amount of radiation from each machine on their website. Backscatter machines, the website says, exposes passengers to the same amount of radiation they would experience "in two minutes of airplane flight at altitude..." The TSA says the energy projected by the other type of machine known as a millimeter wave scan machine is "10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission."