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Robert Longley

TSA Pulling 'Virtual Strip Search' Body Scanners

By January 22, 2013

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last Friday that it will have removed all 174 of the "backscatter" X-ray full-body scanners from the 30 airports where they are currently deployed by the end of June.

TSA took the action after Rapiscan Systems, makers of the X-ray scanners called "virtual strip search" machines by personal privacy advocates, said they would not be able to meet the congressionally-imposed June 1, 2013 deadline for supplying software that would display a simple generic outline of passengers.

The Rapiscan X-ray scanners will be replaced by the newer millimeter wave scanners now in use at 170 airports.

Unlike the X-ray scanners, millimeter wave scanners use safer radio waves and employ Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software, which displays a completely non-identifiable, generic passenger outline as required by The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

"By June 2013 travelers will only see machines which have ATR that allow for faster throughput," stated the TSA on its blog. "This means faster lanes for the traveler and enhanced security."

Until they can be used for what the TSA called "other mission priorities within the government," the $200,000 per-unit X-ray scanners will be put into a TSA storage facility. Should Rapiscan Systems be able to develop suitable ATR software, the units might be reinstalled in airports, according to the TSA.

As before, the TSA reminds passengers who object to being scanned by either the X-ray or millimeter wave machines that they always have the option of requesting a memorable hands-on pat-down search instead.

Ironically, the Census Bureau notes that Americans got their first look at X-ray machines on Friday, January 18, 1896, exactly 117 years to the day before the TSA announced the retirement of its X-ray scanners from airports. And, as the Census Bureau also recalls, Thomas Edison's research assistant Clarence Dally, after long, unshielded experimentation with X-rays, had both arms amputated, and then died in 1904 from exposure to radiation.

Also See:
Congress Probes Misconduct by TSA Screeners
TSA Could Improve Complaint Process, GAO Reports


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