The days of full-body scanners producing revealing images of travelers are numbered, the Transportation Security Administration announced in a statement on Wednesday.
Through a software update, the TSA is phasing out "passenger-specific images," in favor of a generic body outline.
Potential threats will be identified on the generic body outline, and if a possible threat is found passengers will go through an additional screening. Currently, the agency uses about 500 full-body scanners in 78 airports. They operate using two types of technology -- millimeter wave and backscatter.
The TSA says it will install the new software on 241 millimeter scanners at 40 airports in the coming months, and it anticipates testing software updates for backscatter machines in the fall. Currently, 38 airports use a total of 247 backscatter machines.
"[The] TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," TSA Administrator John Pistole said in a statement. "This software upgrade enables us to continue providing a high level of security through advanced imaging technology screening, while improving the passenger experience at checkpoints."
Civil liberties groups and passenger rights organizations have long criticized the body scanners saying that the machines invade the privacy of innocent travelers. They have also questioned the necessity, safety and reliability of the technology.
"It's a step in the right direction. However, our stance remains the same in that we feel that the TSA should immediately discontinue the use of these scanners," said Brandon Macsata, executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights. "We feel that there are more beneficial ways, more cost effective ways to improve and maintain security at airports."
The Key Changes:
Images will no longer need to be viewed by TSA agents in a remote location.
Passengers will see the same images that the TSA sees.
If no suspicious items are detected, "OK" appears on the monitor and no body outline is shown. If a suspicious item is detected the passenger undergoes a patdown, the same type of patdown that would be given if the passenger opted not to go through the scanner.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.