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Updated Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 05:44 PM

‘Backscatter’ scanners to be replaced at Sea-Tac Airport

By Carol Pucci
Special to The Seattle Times

The controversial “backscatter’’ full-body scanners installed at Sea-Tac Airport nearly 2.5 years ago will be gone by June 1, if not sooner.

A staff report to members of the Seattle Port Commission indicated the Transportation Security Administration would begin replacing the Rapiscan scanners on April 4. That date now appears to be up in the air, although a TSA spokeswoman said the scanners would be replaced in time to meet a June 1 federally-mandated deadline.

“Their schedule remains fluid as they are making these changes at airports around the country,” said Sea-Tac spokesman Perry Cooper on Monday.

Passenger rights groups have been pushing the TSA to replace the scanners with less invasive and safer millimeter-wave machines made by L-3 Communications.

Unlike the backscatter machines which use X-ray beams (that give off low levels of ionizing radiation) to scan underneath clothing, the millimeter wave machines use radio frequency waves. They also feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

No word yet on how many of the new scanners Sea-Tac will get to replace the 14 backscatters currently in use at security checkpoints.

The TSA announced earlier that it would remove the scanners from U.S. airports in the face of the June deadline from Congress for modifying the nude imaging pictures.

The decision eliminates most concerns about privacy and safety, but not the hassle factor. Passengers must still remove everything from their pockets, including non-metallic items such as handkerchiefs and wallets.


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