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TSA seeks technology to make screening easier on travelers

Erik S. Lesser/AP

This story was updated to include a comment from TSA.

The Transportation Security Administration is scanning the private sector for technology to improve the way it searches for and responds to threats at the nation’s airports, according to solicitation documents posted Monday.

In addition to improving security, TSA is interested in technology that will “increase passenger comfort throughout the screening process,” the request for information states.

That could be an indication the agency is looking for alternatives to full body imaging scanners or physical pat downs at many airports. Lawmakers and interest groups have argued those techniques involve invasions of privacy.

TSA previously committed to making the images transmitted by its body scanners less invasive by masking parts of them by mid-2012. TSA has installed 730 of those systems, which substitute generic body outlines for the outlines of the actual human body, at 190 airports so far, agency spokesman David Castelveter said.

The RFI is constructed broadly to allow for responses dealing with passenger screening, checked luggage screening, overall airport monitoring, or a combination of all three. Issuing an RFI rather than a request for quotation means the agency may significantly change what it’s seeking before any acquisition or may not purchase any new technology at all.

Industry suggestions for new or upgraded screening technology must fit into the current physical parameters of TSA airport checkpoints and can’t change the agency’s airport staffing procedures, the RFI states. The technology also must not inhibit TSA’s ability to meet its current processing times of about nine seconds per passenger screening and must be intuitive enough that they don’t require new “passenger training,” the documents state.

Responses are due Sept. 5 for technology related to baggage screening and by Sept. 17 for technology associated with passenger screening.

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