01/22/2013 06:02 EST | Updated 03/24/2013 05:12 EDT

'Naked' Airport Scans Could Undergo Revamp

An airline passenger undergoes a full body scan at O'Hare International Airport Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Canadian airports are still using the so-called naked full body scan images being removed from airports in the United States because the three-dimensional images are considered too revealing.

But that could eventually change, said Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) spokesman Mathieu Larocque.

CATSA is currently testing automated target recognition software on the scanners, he said.

"It essentially generates just a stick man image … that will highlight an area of the body that could need more inspection, like the ankle, for example, or the elbow," said Larocque, who is based in Ottawa.

"We don’t have a specific timeline for potential deployment, but this is something that we’re looking at," he said.

There are 51 scanners at 18 airports across Canada, including one at the Greater Moncton International Airport.

Margot Ward, who was travelling between Moncton and Toronto on Monday, described the full body scans as "scary."

"I don't think I'd want it, no," she said.

U.S. dropping 3D scans in June

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration announced last week its X-ray scanners will be removed from airports this summer because the company that makes them can't resolve privacy concerns raised by the 3D images.

U.S. Congress had ordered that the scanners either produce a more generic image or be removed by June. The manufacturer, Rapiscan, acknowledged it wouldn't be able to meet the deadline.

The U.S. will continue to use another type of body scanner, which uses millimetre wave technology instead of X-ray technology.

The scanners being used at airports across Canada also use millimetre wave technology, said Larocque.

But the U.S. has applied the automated target recognition software to the scanners, which produces a generic outline of the passenger instead of the 3D image, he said.

"In Canada, we haven't had these types of [privacy] concerns," said Larocque.

Passengers who are randomly selected for secondary screening are always given the choice between a full body scan or a physical search, he said.

"We’ve had a satisfaction rate for the full body scanner that is pretty high. A lot of passengers in our customer satisfaction survey have indicated that they’re quite comfortable with the technology."

Still, the automatic target recognition software is being looked at, said Larocque.

"It is a commitment that we made when we unveiled these machines that we’d continue to look at other ways to ensure that the perception of the privacy of passengers is kept and just generally look at new technologies that are improving the delivery of service, including at the full body scanner level, and that’s what we’re doing," he said.

The machines, which can scan through clothing, allow a screening officer to see whether someone is carrying plastic explosives or other dangerous items.

They were installed at Canadian airports about three years ago to comply with new U.S. security protocols, implemented after a man snuck explosives onto a flight originating in Nigeria and bound for Detroit on Christmas day in 2009.

In Canada, the screening officer examines the images from a separate room and does not have a direct view of the traveller before, during or after the screening process.

The officer receives no personal information that could associate the image to the particular traveller, according to the CATSA website.

To further protect traveller privacy, the images are deleted after they are viewed, the website states.

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