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TSA Begins Pilot Testing of Backscatter X-ray Technology

New York, Mar 01, 2007

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) recently launched a pilot test of a new personnel screening system at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. Using backscatter x-ray technology, the system is designed to detect weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic threats concealed on a passenger.

The technology being tested meets the requirements of the American National Standard N43.17, Radiation Safety for Personnel Security Screening Systems Using X-rays, which establishes guidelines on radiation safety. Backscatter works by reflecting a low intensity x-ray beam over a person’s body, creating a kind of "chalk outline" of the individual. The system then reveals what are called "low Z" materials—such as plastic and liquid explosives, and plastic weapons that contain low atomic number elements (i.e., carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen). At the same time, the technology recognizes the lack of scattering that occurs with "high Z" materials, including metal weapons and bomb-detonating wires.

Developed by ANSI Accredited Standards Committee (ASC) N43 on equipment for non-medical radiation applications, N43.17 sets acceptable dose limits for x-ray personnel security screening systems. According to TSA, the radiation dose from a single scan from TSA’s system is equivalent to that received from two minutes of airplane flight at altitude.

During the pilot program, the imaging technology will be used on a voluntary basis as an alternative to a physical pat-down search. TSA will evaluate operational and safety issues, as well as public perceptions of the technology and privacy considerations.

“Privacy and security are not mutually exclusive, and backscatter has potential to be a valuable tool in our layered security approach,” explained Kip Hawley, TSA administrator. “There will be opportunity for continued public dialogue as we see how this technology works in the airport setting.”

TSA plans to rollout pilot testing of the technology to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Los Angeles International Airport later this year.

Additional information on the TSA pilot test and backscatter technology is available here.

ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel