Sacramento International this week became the latest airport to employ new, "non-intrusive" body-scanning machines at security checkpoints walk-through booths designed to foil terrorists without irking passengers.
Federal Transportation Security Administration officials unveiled five scanners Thursday at Terminal B, and said three more should be up and running at Terminal A by the end of the month.
The machines detect hidden metallic and nonmetallic objects in or under a person's clothes. But, unlike the controversial body scanners the agency installed at some airports last year, the new machines do not create viewable images of a person's body.
Instead, new scanner software shows a generic outline of a human body on a screen. Hidden items appear as yellow boxes.
The screen is situated next to the scanner, where it is viewed by a TSA agent, and can also be seen by the passenger after he or she steps out of the machine.
"The original imagery was perceived as too graphic," TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said. "This reduces the mystique. This is more efficient for us, and the process is speedier for passengers."
The machines cost $150,000 to $170,000 each, financed by the federal Department of Homeland Security. Melendez said machines already in airports with the older, body-specific technology are having their software swapped so that they also produce generic body outlines. That should be done by next year.
Melendez said all passengers will be asked to go through the scanner. Once inside, they are told to stand sideways with arms overhead for a second before exiting. Passengers who decline will be required to go through a metal detector, then undergo a pat-down search.
The scanners emit radiation, which has caused concern among some passengers. Federal officials say radiation amounts are smaller than people are exposed to with a cellphone call or while flying on a plane.
Passengers at the Sacramento airport Thursday morning seemed more concerned about getting through security quickly than about the new machines.
"I think (the controversy) is a lot of fuss over nothing," said Michael Justice of El Dorado Hills. "As long as it is real safety and not the illusion of safety, I'm fine with it."
Passenger Mohammad Kian of Los Angeles was not impressed. "I understand the reason for it, but I think it's wasting government money. I think this is overkill."
Robin Neill of Sacramento, who has metal implants, said she was pleased not to have to go through the old metal detector anymore. "I set it off every time. This is easier. They don't have to pat me down."