TSA tests new technology for airport body scanners

New software that will only generate a generic outline of a person and threatening items will be marked on the outline.

The U.S. government Tuesday began testing new airport screening technology that does not generate an image of a person's body, in an effort to address concerns raised by privacy and civil liberties organizations.

The use of whole-body scanning machines at airports has been controversial largely because the machines create an image of a person's body without clothes. The Transportation Security Administration has said the machines give airport screeners the best chance of finding hidden objects on travelers.

But TSA is now testing new software that will only generate a generic outline of a person. Threatening items will be marked on the outline.

"We are always looking for new technology and procedures that will both enhance security while strengthening privacy protections," TSA Administrator John Pistole said. "Testing this new software will help us confirm test results that indicate it can provide the same high level of security as current advanced imaging technology units while further enhancing the privacy protections already in place."

Testing is being conducted at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport and will be rolled out at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in the coming days, TSA said.

TSA has installed about 500 body scanners at 78 airports across the country, and plans to install about 500 more this year.

"By eliminating the passenger-specific image associated with the current version of [scanning machines], a separate TSA officer will no longer be required to view the image in a remotely-located viewing room," the agency said. "Through removing this step of the process, [the screening process] will become more efficient, expanding the throughput capability of the technology."

While eliminating body images will likely address the concerns of privacy and civil liberties groups, some critics still worry that the machines give off unsafe levels of radiation. TSA argues that the radiation levels are not harmful.