Some folks are getting the wrong idea that the SPO-7 passive millimeter wave technology used at Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports during the recent conventions is a mobile Millimeter Wave portal and can see through clothing. That’s not the case. These are two separate technologies that look for threats in different ways.
The Millimeter Wave portal - the booth you walk into at checkpoints in certain airports - penetrates garments and provides an image. The SPO-7, which uses passive millimeter wave technology to detect threats from a distance, produces an image, but it’s simply the type of image you would see on a video camera. Images are not stored.
The SPO-7 unit consists of two separate sensors and a monitoring location. By simultaneously comparing the illumination levels from two locations on an individual’s body, the SPO-7 detects potential threats such as suicide vests and other improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that are hidden under individuals’ clothing. On the screen, it produces a light, using a red-to-green scale, that suggests anomalies such as the presence of explosives. That's why the screen and the officer viewing the screen doesn't need to be in a remote location.
Security officers operating the SPO-7 will work closely with Behavior Detection Officers. The teams will be equipped with wireless headsets to communicate with each other about possible concerns. TSA also partners closely with local law enforcement who will respond if called.
Unlike the stationary (and large) millimeter wave portal, the SPO-7 is mobile and only requires a few hours of training for use. This comes in handy to provide an additional layer of security in specific areas, in both the aviation, mass transit and maritime environments.
In crowded public areas such as ferry terminals, mass transit stations and most recently, airports, the SPO-7 works without breaking passengers’ stride.
And lastly, to address safety and privacy concerns, the SPO-7 does not shoot X-rays or any other type of radiation at people. It merely measures energy that emanates from the human body. Signage is prominently displayed where the SPO-7 is used to notify the public. SPO-7 enables TSA to add an unpredictable security measure without adding inconvenience to passengers.
The SPO-7 pilots will continue at the Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul airports for 60-90 days.
So, the two key things you should take away from this post are:
The SPO-7 cannot see through your clothing.
The SPO-7 does not project X-rays or any other types of radiation.
Here are some screen shots of what the operator sees:
TSA EoS Blog Team