- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

LAS VEGAS | Federal aviation officials are giving it another try. This time, they are not looking as closely under the clothes of American travelers.

The Transportation Security Administration on Tuesday began testing a new, more modest body-scanning system at three airports. Officials hope it will assuage critics’ concerns that the nearly 500 full-body scanners at 78 airports reveal too much.

“We believe it addresses the privacy issues that have been raised,” TSA administrator John Pistole said at a news conference at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, one of the airports testing the technology.

The system does not involve new machines. Instead, it relies on new software.

The software discards the x-ray-style image that revealed the contours of the traveler’s body — the one that left many uncomfortable at the thought of screeners being able to see them with the rough outlines of their undergarments.

Now, there is just a generic image — like the chalk outline of a body at a crime scene.

This is how it works: Travelers pass through the scanner. Once they step out, an image can be seen on a computer monitor. It can display a large green “OK” and the passengers can move on.

If they have something in their pockets or hidden elsewhere on their body, the outline of a body appears, and a box marks the location of the object. If someone had a wallet in a front pocket, for example, the box would appear over the hips.

The box would then trigger a human “pat-down” search.

If all goes well for two months, TSA officials say they can install the software in 250 of the scanners nationwide at a cost of $2.7 million. The expansion will be limited to that because the software works on machines produced by only one of the two companies that supply the government.