Use of Full Body Scanners (CATSA)

On December 25, 2009, a terrorist attempted to detonate an explosive device on board a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  Following the terrorist incident, the Government of Canada accelerated its action to protect air travelers by installing full body scanners technology at major Canadian airports.  The decision to install the full body scanners was an effort to enhance security, respond promptly to the incident and to improve the detection capabilities of body-worn threat items.

Prior to the incident, CATSA had conducted a trial of the Full Body Scanner technology at a Canadian Airport in Kelowna between June 2008 and January 2009.  The technology was tested over several months to evaluate security effectiveness, collect operational performance date in an airport environment and validate the screening protocol for this type of technology.  The Kelowna trial was successful as it provided valuable information to support the planning of a larger deployment to respond to emerging future threats such as the incident of December 2009.

The technology works by projecting low-level millimeter wave radio frequency (RF) energy over and around the passenger’s body.  Millimeter wave frequencies are harmless and have the properties to penetrate through clothing and several other organic materials. The RF wave is reflected back from the body and signals are recovered using highly sensitive detectors.  The signals recovered are processed and converted to digital format to produce a three-dimensional image.  The image will reveal all objects concealed under clothing. The entire scan process is harmless and takes about five seconds.

The technology detects “anomalies” on a passenger, including metals and non-metals of all types, sizes and shapes; ceramic type threats such as knives and sharp instrument; liquids of all types; and explosives of all types.

The technology is used in over a dozen countries around the world.  The full body scanners are deployed in airports, border crossings, correctional facilities, courthouses, military checkpoints and commercial applications.  It is one of the most effective methods of screening for concealed objects on persons. 

The full body scanners are the next generation of passenger screening technology that offer a balance of safety and security with safeguards to privacy.  The technology was subject to a review by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, which has confirmed that the privacy concerns have been appropriately addressed.  Travelers will have the option to use the scanners as an alternative to physical search, which will speed up the screening process.  It will also bring enhancements to the security screening as it adds an element of unpredictability in the overall process.

Using Inter-Departmental Intelligence transportation security information networks, Transport Canada continually reviews the aviation security system to ensure that it remains effective in addressing the challenge and risks associated with an evolving security environment. The Full Body Scanner millimeter wave technology represents a significant security enhancement over the conventional walk through metal detector for passenger screening and body worn threats.

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