RSW getting first full-body scanner

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Some passengers at Southwest Florida’s main airport will soon be getting a different once-over by security.

The Transportation Safety Administration will have the first full-body scanner up and running at Southwest Florida International Airport beginning Friday, the federal agency confirmed.

For now there will only be one machine, said Sari Koshetz, a Miami-based TSA spokeswoman. How many more, and when they will be installed, is not being disclosed.

The full-body scanner at the Concourse C security checkpoint, which serves Continental, Delta, and Delta Connection flights, uses electromagnetic waves to detect items that may be concealed. In theory, it will not change how long it takes to go through security, Koshetz said. Carry-on luggage will still need to go through the X-ray machine.

Passengers with joint replacements may find they get through faster, she added, because the scan can eliminate the need for a pat-down when medical devices set off traditional metal detectors.

The scanner is part of a nationwide rollout of the machines at airports since 2007.

In large part, the scanners — which provide a full-body image — were developed to detect metallic and non-metallic items that could pose security threats.

Privacy concerns arose when the full-body scanners were initially introduced five years ago. After the passenger stepped into the machine for a few seconds with his or her arms up, the initial software provided the image of the nude surface of the skin under clothing. This lead to a public debate over what was deemed private, since the machines reveal to staff viewing the images can see prosthetics and other medical devices like catheters and colostomy bags, which would not be visible with traditional metal detectors.

Worries about detailed body images were partially resolved with new software that accompanies the machine. The images reviewed now are a generic outline of a body that is identical for all passengers, with potential concealed items highlighted on the screen.

TSA explains on its blog that the full-body scan is optional. Individuals who opt out must undergo alternative screening, which will include a pat-down.

The imaging technology meets national health and safety standards. A single scan projects energy that is thousands of times less than a cell phone transmission, according to the TSA.

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