WASHINGTON— Three Senators returning from a recent Congressional Delegation to study counterterrorism efforts abroad – Susan Collins of Maine, Jon Kyl of Arizona, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia – sent a letter Monday to Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, urging the examination of how the Amsterdam airport has deployed whole body imaging technology to improve security and to alleviate privacy concerns.
With the addition of “auto-detection technology,” current whole body scanning machines being tested in the United States can be enhanced to address privacy concerns, while at the same time speeding the screening process. Senator Collins also noted that the technology in Amsterdam avoids exposing passengers and screeners to radiation, which is emitted from some of the machines that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to deploy.
A copy of the letter follows:
April 12, 2010
The Honorable Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Secretary Napolitano:
As the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) begins the deployment of whole body imaging machines at airport screening checkpoints, we urge the Department to evaluate the imaging technology that we saw demonstrated last week at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam. The screening machines used by Schiphol incorporate auto-detection technology that addresses many of the privacy concerns raised by the scanners DHS is currently testing, while also appearing to provide a highly effective scan.
Computer-based auto-detection technology identifies potentially threatening objects on a person and highlights with boxes on a featureless human body outline those areas of the individual that may require further inspection. If the computer scan finds no problems, then the passenger and screener at the imaging machine are notified almost immediately that the passenger may proceed. The system we saw demonstrated obviates the need for a screening officer to review a detailed image of a passenger in a separate viewing room. Separate image viewing areas also take up vital physical space, which is already tightly constrained at most airports. Eliminating the need to view detailed images of passengers’ bodies in separate rooms would, therefore, address privacy concerns and save the government and airports money on physical space for screening. The automated review of images by a computer, rather than by a screener examining the image in a separate room, also appears to improve the speed of the whole body imaging process.
Another advantage of this technology is that it avoids exposing passengers and screeners to radiation.
Dutch officials have deployed this technology in response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. While no technology is 100 percent effective at detecting dangerous items, the Dutch officials we talked to expressed confidence that there was a “high probability” that this technology would have detected Abdulmutallab’s concealed explosives.
We wanted to bring this technology to your attention because it appears to offer a solution to the significant privacy concerns that have been raised about DHS’s deployment of whole body imaging machines in the United States. We would appreciate the Department providing our staff with an update on the Department’s efforts to acquire and deploy this auto-detection technology, which appears to be superior to the whole body screening technology that is now being installed at U.S. airports.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. If you have any questions about this request, please contact us directly or have your staff contact Rob Strayer on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee staff at (202) 224-4751.
Susan Collins Jon Kyl
U.S. Senator U.S. Senator