TSA: new body scanner software censors images

US airport security agency the TSA is testing new software for its full body scanners which censors images to protect passengers' modesty - a response to a storm of controversy that met the introduction of the scanners last November.

The Transportation Security Administration's new software made its debut on Tuesday at Las Vegas airport, and produces a grey 'cookie cutter' outline of the passenger, rather than the embarrassingly anatomical images that gave the devices the nickname 'porno scanners'.

Suspicious items detected by the scanner are highlighted on the operator's screen as little red boxes. Hands-on traditionalists will be pleased to note that passengers who trigger the alerts will still be subject to the very rigorous frisking that caused most of the complaints in the first place.

The new software is expected be installed at Washington's Reagan National Airport and in Atlanta, and could soon find its way on to all 486 scanners in use at 78 major airports.

"We believe it addresses the privacy issues that have been raised," TSA head John Pistole told the Washington Post. "It's basically a software modification to existing equipment, so there's very little cost."

Kate Hanni, founder of the California-based group FlyersRights, called the new software "a great step forward."

"We're grateful to the TSA for addressing these issues that were of concern to so many people," Hanni said. "But privacy was our secondary issue. Our primary concern about the body scanners is that they are ineffective. We're also concerned about the possibility of surges in radiation."

Two types of scanner, 'backscatter' and 'millimetre wave' machines, are currently in use at US airports. The new software is being tested on millimetre wave devices, but the TSA says it plans to test similar software on backscatter units too.

The introduction of the scanners in November last year prompted outrage among US travellers, with videos posted on YouTube including one of a TSA official allegedly 'molesting' a three-year old girl.

California man John Tyner became an instant folk hero after posting videos on his blog of an encounter with TSA officials in which the computer programmer threatened them not to "touch his junk", which is American for willy.