Good for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She has taken TSA’s pilot of passenger imaging (aka millimeter wave) technology to the next step by approving its use as a primary screening tool at six airports.

For those of you who follow these issues you know effective, risk-based security involves a layered approach. It is not just about technology, although we can be confident that the technologies being used in the airport today are improving. It involves the human element, which requires skilled and switched-on officers that operate as a network and use the home team advantage at the checkpoint. It also involves the use of intelligence, partnerships with other federal state and local agencies, and the flexibility to be anyplace, any time in the airport (out front, at the gate, on the tarmac), not just at the checkpoint.

TSA first deployed body imaging technology two years ago in Phoenix. It is always optional, which means if the passenger refuses, they can opt for a pat down.  Most people hate pat downs and would much rather step into the machine for a scan that only takes 15 seconds. The image that is produced looks more like a fuzzy photo negative than a pornographic photo.  Just look at Lesley Stahl’s reaction when she saw the machine last November at Baltimore-Washington International for a segment on 60 Minutes.

TSA engaged privacy groups every step of the way, and while you will still hear isolated complaints, most are satisfied with the privacy measures that the agency uses on millimeter wave:

•    Officer attending passenger never sees image.
•    Officer viewing image is in a remote location and does not see passenger.
•    Officers communicate via radio headsets to resolve any hidden threat items.
•    Once image is resolved it is deleted. The machine cannot store, save or transmit images.
•    Facial features are blurred.

Did I mention it is voluntary? And the real proof is in the numbers TSA is collecting. Very few people have refused to go through the machine. More on that data is available at

This is breakthrough technology that can better detect concealed items. It is another step in the right direction to raise the bar on security. Good for Secretary Napolitano. She recognizes security is the mission, while still keeping privacy and public education concerns in the forefront.