Millimeter wave technology produces whole body images (woman at left, man at right) that reveal what's under your clothes, including Metallic or non-metallic devices and objects are displayed.

Remember those scanners from Total Recall? The kind that could see through your clothes and detect if someone is carrying something they shouldn’t? The future is getting closer and that has a few people worried about privacy.

L3 Communications is testing new Millimeter Wave (MMW) technology scanners at six airports around the country, with up to twenty airports planning to start using MMW technology later this year. Unlike the Total Recall’s “just walk right through” scanners, passengers still must remove jackets, metal items, and shoes and step into a small glass chamber. Sensors take about 3min to read the energy coming off the human body and can detect if there is anything that shouldn’t be on the person.

Even though the faces of passengers are blurred out and the technology does not allow printing or storing in anyway, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that this technology is too intrusive, showing catheters, underwear, and other non-natural items under a person’s cloths. Not to mention that it quite easily shows the curves of the person’s body which can be seen on the image with this blog.

 At this point it is being offerred by the TSA as an alternative to a traditional pat-down search. The TSA states that more than 99% of passengers given the choice are choosing the MMW technology, but I wonder if they know what the scan is doing. Passengers might think it is like the “sniffing scanner” which is mostly harmless.

Although the concept of this seems like a smart idea, actually seeing the images produced would make me feel uncomfortable being scanned with a MMW scanner. If you get a pat-down you can see the person and know they are being professional. How does one know what a TSA agent is doing with the images they are seeing via MMW in their “remote location.” Although images cannot be recorded, what stops someone from taking photos of the screen? I love technology and would hate to hinder the evolution of Total Recall type scanners. I think if people are informed what the scan fully entails (ie maybe have an example picture next to the scanners) and are given this as a choice, then I think this technology can work and keep people safe.

Thanks Jessica for the tip!

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me:
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this kind of disgusts me. i wouldn’t want people looking at my body in that fashion, especially behind closed doors. i bet you are right and most of these people really don’t know what this scanner does to you. i vote thumbs down on this concept.


I think American’s are a little too weird about the human body. This scanner doesn’t produce naked pictures, but will easily identify objects (weapons, drugs) in addition to metal body parts. So it finds the criminals and allows people with metal in their bodies (hips screws, etc) to pass through without intrusive searches… doesn’t sound bad to me. I think people just need to get over it. Seriously, if you don’t like it – don’t fly. I would prefer this than a full body pat down any day.

I tend to agree with the ACLU. This is the TSA, a government agency, and I think they should uphold better standards of privacy. I hate to use the slippery slope argument, but what next? I mean, they can see through your clothes anyways, why not strip-search?

I think its a good idea if it moves those lines along quicker. I wouldnt mind the scanner unless it was cold in there and I had shrinkage.

I think that the argument that this is an invasion of privacy is totally unfounded. Flying is a privilege, not a right, so if you don’t want to have a person (who will not see you in person) see a vague black and white picture of your body, don’t fly. At DEN, they have one, and while I have not personally been in it, I have seen people in it, and it takes less than 15 seconds. While this is slower than the metal detectors currently in use, it will detect more than just metal, it will show suspicious items on the person, which can be further inspected in person. It wouldn’t impact the length of security lines, because you already have to wait more than 15 seconds for your bags to pass through the xray machine, so there would be less waiting for the bags to come through. These 3D scans will make the process so much easier, quicker, and safer, with no impact on the public.


I work in the industry, and while we don’t have any of these scanners in operation where I work, we know a lot about them since we’re eventually getting some. Fact is, the machine is good at what it does. It very easily detects suspicious items on a person, and far better than anything else available currently.

The intention is to be VERY strict regarding privacy. It blurs faces, the operators are all sitting in a group in another room, unable to see the actual person passing through, and being supervised by eachother as well as their supervisor. I’ve heard talk of not even allowing cell phones in the room, to avoid people just photographing the screen. That’s if they’re even interested in trying to get a copy of a slightly blurred outline of a passenger when they can get high definition pictures of naked women on the internet at their leisure. Having worked with people whose job involves searching through people’s things, it’s easy for me to see that they’ve done searches so often that they really don’t get excitement from the fifty-seventh hot girl they’ve seen in the past few hours.

But the fact remains, as KZ pointed out, flying on an aircraft is a privilege, not a right, and the government and the airlines have a right to make sure that their flights are safe, since safety benefits them as much as the passengers. If it’s too much of a violation of privacy for you to step into a machine and have someone who will never be able to associate your body image to your face look at such a picture of you, ask for a manual search. If you don’t want that, last I looked you didn’t get searched in your car on road trips.

As someone that uses an indwelling transuretral catheter, Im just a little apprehensive of the whole thing… do I go in the scanner, and when they see my collection bag (which holds up to 1000 ml and is strapped around my waist) have to go in a room and unzip and prove Im not carring a liquid bomb, or do I go through the pat down and potentially have to go through the same “real” strip search.

Dont get me wrong.. I dont want a terrorist taking a cath bag full of explosives on my plane. But man, there has to be some less invacive technology.

Hey CW, Thanks for the comment.

Does your catheter end up setting off the normal metal detectors at all?


They need to profile the passengers first to see who is higher risk. They should be scanned in this manner. Just for the sake of political correctness, we shouldn’t have to scan everyone this way. It’s too intrusive.

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