What lies beneath

Technologies forcing air passengers to ‘bare all' have proved an effective way to detect concealed objects.

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By  Administrator Published  May 17, 2008

Criticised by privacy advocates, screening technologies that force passengers to ‘bare all' have proved an effective way to detect concealed explosives, weapons and liquids.

Over the past seven years, terrorist attacks have been widely publicised by the international media. Following 9/11 and the liquid bomb plot of 2006, it seems the aviation industry is particularly at risk.

In a bid to combat these potential threats, several security companies have developed whole body imaging technologies able to detect hidden weapons and explosives.

We're not claiming we can identify a suicide bomber in the crowd. What we're doing is allowing you to filter thousands of people, down to one or two who pose a potential threat.

These systems, suitable for airport use, are currently being piloted by the Transport Security Administration (TSA). The millimetre wave system and the controversial Backscatter x-ray device have been introduced in several US airports for testing. Lauren Wolf, spokesperson for TSA, says the scanners are proving successful.

"They enable the TSA to detect prohibited items including weapons, explosives and other metallic and non-metallic objects concealed under layers of clothing without physical contact."

UK-based company QinetiQ has developed the SPO-20, a personal scanning system praised for its ability to screen passengers at stand-off distances.

Although it is currently being piloted in ferry and mass transit environments, the technology could soon be employed by airports.

Kevin Murphy, product manager, says: "You're screened in the same manner you might be by a CCTV camera or an infra red camera. It's located in one point or one place but it can screen you, watch you and draw information about you from what it sees and detects."

The system employs millimetre wave technology which detects waves emitted from the human body through their clothing. Security officials are trained to recognise normal wave signatures and flag an alarm if something is radically different.

"What this tells us is that person is different and needs some further investigation," says Murphy.

"We're not claiming we can identify a suicide bomber in the crowd. What we're doing is allowing you to filter thousands of people, down to one or two who pose a potential threat."

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