Los Angeles has become the first US city to buy body scanners to screen metro riders, in an effort to catch suicide bombers or other security threats.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles Metro and the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued a joint press release about the technology, which the agencies say “will help detect weapon and explosive device security threats on the county’s transit system.”
An LA Metro spokesman told NPR that the transit system has ordered several units, costing about $100,000 each. The portable body scanners are Thruvision TAC-TS4 portable terahertz millimeter wave passenger screening devices: devices that can detect both metallic and non-metallic objects, including concealed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and other weapons intended to cause mass casualties.
The scanners are similar to those used at airports, but they don’t release radiation. Rather, they detect radiation – as in, body heat. When objects are concealed, the radiation waves are blocked. The Thruvision scanners detect such blockage and render it as either a black spot on the body or in a color overlay.
Those visual indicators are rendered on top of a generic avatar: one that doesn’t display anatomical details and hence doesn’t make the process feel like people are being ogled via x-rays that see through their clothes.
The Thruvision scanners also differ from airport scanners in that passengers don’t need to line up to pass through one by one. Metro passengers can just walk through stations the same way they always do.
Polly Hanson, the director of security and emergency management at the American Public Transportation Association, told NPR that passive scanners like these are better suited for metro systems than those used at airports, not just because they can more easily handle the sheer volume of mass transit riders, but also because it means the system can move far faster:
At an airport, you’re funneled through one specific location. Mass transit, there are multiple fare gates [and] some systems are barrierless… it just currently doesn’t lend itself to the kind of security that’s in an airport.
It’s not clear when the devices will be put into use. However, when they do go into general use, they won’t be used on every rider on any given day. Rather, LA Metro will place the new devices at only a few locations in the system. But given that they’re portable, they can be moved around, either randomly or to respond to specific concerns.
7 comments on “Los Angeles to use body scanners on metro riders”
This was bound to happen sooner or later but it is nevertheless a new low and a date to remember for the history books.
I for one won’t be booking a trip to LA. What about those of us who are pacemaker dependant. Do they even realise we exist?!!
These are *passive* scanners, meaning that they only measure the energy or electromagnetic radiation that your body or an item you’re carrying is emitting anyway, such as heat from your skin or radio signals from a mobile phone in your pocket. AFAIK, they don’t fire any energy *at* you – no radio waves, no ionising radiation, not even hot air, nothing. Think of it like a camera taking a picture without a flash – the shutter opens and the sensor records the light that enters, and that’s it. Strictly a “look but don’t touch” approach, so I can’t see how a scanner of this sort could affect a pacemaker at all.
Have I missed something? Is this a problem? Which LA councilmen own stock in the company supplying these scanners, or were otherwise bribed by this company?
Dr Who comes to LA. Attack of the Cybermen.
“won’t be used on every rider on any given day” – bad news for unlucky terrorists!
“they detect radiation – as in, body heat” – Is that going to catch a briefcase bomb, with the thermal radiation from the carrier’s leg being subtly differently altered by the explosives in the briefcase than the day before when he had his laptop in it? (Yes, I know: you’d have to shoot me if you told me that.)
“they can more easily handle the sheer volume of mass transit riders, but also because it means the system can move far faster” – and so when a ‘black spot’ is found on someone in transit, false alarm or not, what happens then? During peak hour you can imagine the delays this will cause the commuters, let alone the panic, imagine how the people will respond when police in riot gear emerge with weapons drawn…