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New technology, rules aim to ease air travel aggravation

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  • Body imaging scanner among new security measures
  • TSA also announces standard criteria for accepting passenger identification
  • TSA tries to solve problem of passengers wrongly thought to be on security watch list
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BALTIMORE, Maryland (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security unveiled measures Monday aimed at easing the aggravation associated with air travel, including new screening machines, clearer standards for identification, and a new effort to keep travelers from falsely being identified as potential terrorists.

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Michael Chertoff takes off his jacket at a new security line at Baltimore/Washington International Airport.

Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary, said the measures aim "to take security to a new level, but also to take convenience to a new level, to eliminate some of the persistent irritations that are a constant source of complaint."

He announced the new measures at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where new "millimeter wave" scanners that went into operation Monday were demonstrated to journalists. The scanners are part of a system the department calls Checkpoint Evolution.

"Another thing the checkpoint uses is whole-body imaging. ... This technology allows us to detect any item concealed in a person's body," Chertoff said.

The scanners clearly reveal all the contours of a person's body through clothing. Faces are obscured, and the images are not kept on file, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Staff monitoring the scanners sit in a separate room.

The department also announced standard criteria for accepting passenger identification: "Beginning May 26, 2008, federal or state-issued photo ID will be accepted if it contains: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature."

And the department unveiled a step aimed at easing frustration for passengers who, because their names are similar to those on the terror watch list, run into constant frustration and delays when they travel by air.

"Each airline will now be able to create a system to verify and securely store a passenger's date of birth to clear up watch list misidentifications," the department said in a written statement. "By voluntarily providing this limited biographical data to an airline and verifying that information once at the ticket counter, travelers that were previously inconvenienced on every trip will now be able to check in online or at remote kiosks."

Chertoff said one airline alone reported "roughly 9,000 false positives in a day." He did not name the airline.

"I want to emphasize that because it will be the passenger working directly with the airline, the government will not be acquiring the information," he said. "This is a totally private process."

He called the step "good for travelers and for security, because as we make the checkpoint environment calmer, it becomes easier to spot individuals with hostile intent."

There are conflicting reports about the number of names on the watch list. The Government Accountability Office said in a study last September that it was about 755,000. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Jim Spellman, CNN homeland security producer, contributed to this report.

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