Body Scanners Are Coming To LA Metro Stations. Here's What We Know About Them

Officials with Metro and the federal Transportation Security Administration test "passive" body scanner at the Seventh Street-Metro Center Station downtown Los Angeles. (File photo by Kyle Stokes/KPCC-LAist)

Los Angeles Metro's subway system will become the first in the nation to install body scanners that screen passengers for weapons and explosives — without slowing them down at security lines.

Metro worked with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to develop the portable technology, and ultimately purchased several (get ready) "Thruvision TAC-TS4 portable terahertz millimeter wave passenger screening devices." The scanners will rolling out later this year.

The scanners can identify objects hidden in clothing or strapped to a person that block the naturally-occurring waves produced by the human body, according to Metro. Those blocked waves are detected and displayed for authorities as either a black spot or a colored indicator on a "generic avatar" of the person being screened.

(Courtesy Los Angeles Metro)

The scanners don't emit any radiation or display anatomical details, Metro said.

Speaking during a press event Tuesday at Union Station, L.A. County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Sheila Kuehl said the new scanners "will augment our aggressive safety and security posture and help us proactively deter potential attacks to our system."

Metro had been testing technology at its downtown 7th Street/Metro Center Station since last year. In Sept. 2017, KPCC/LAist reporter Kyle Stokes got to see the testing in action and spoke with Eric Miller, a professor at L.A.'s Loyola Law School who specializes in policing issues.

While Miller credits Metro for exploring technology that could minimize racial profiling, he said the scanners do raise several privacy concerns. Here's what he told KPCC last September:

"They're deploying a device that shows a mass on an individual's body and backpack" — and, he argued, evidence of a mass on someone's body is not on its own enough to give a police officer probable cause to conduct a search.

"That strikes me as an incredibly crude way of trying to work out whether people are carrying dangerous devices," he continued. "It only benefits us if there's a lot of other evidence that would suggest that a particular station is currently vulnerable or not. Otherwise they're just doing mass data collection of individuals."

KPCC/LAist reporter Kyle Stokes contributed to this report.


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