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TSA Expands Whole Body Scanner Searches

Your Privacy Assured by TSA


Whole Body Scan Image

Example result of whole body scan technology

Getty Images
Updated August 16, 2008

In the 1990 sci-fi adventure movie "Total Recall," Mars-bound spaceport passengers walked through a security device that clearly displayed their bodies underneath their clothing. In 1990 that was nice science fiction special effect. By the end of 2008, you might be required to walk past just such a device and "bare it all" as the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) continues to expand its deployment of whole body scanning devices.

Employing either millimeter wave or backscatter technology, the whole body scanners allow TSA to detect weapons, explosives and other threatening items hidden beneath clothing or inserted into body cavities without the need for pat-down or strip-searches.

What About Personal Privacy and Freedom?
Naturally, the whole concept of whole body scanning has stirred concerns about the technology's potential for invading personal privacy, and violating civil rights and liberties. Is the scanning, for example, a violation of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures? Probably not, since after the 9-11-01 terrorist attacks, one's mere presence in an airport has been treated by the authorities as probable cause for suspicion.

TSA defends the whole body scanners, stating that they are being operated in a manner that ensures personal privacy. In fact, points out TSA, during the devices' trial run at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in February 2007, over 90 percent of the passengers randomly selected for testing chose the whole body scan over a pat-down search.

How Does TSA Protects Your Privacy?
Recognizing the public's concerns, TSA has established a special protocol for the use of whole body scanners they believe protects the personal privacy of passengers. The scanned images cannot be printed, stored or transmitted. The scanning devices have no internal memory, hard drives or other data storage devices. The scanners have no modems, network cards or other data transmission, or printing devices. Once the image has been evaluated and erased from the scanner's screen, it is gone.

The scanned images are viewed at a remote location. The TSA officer sees the scanned image on a stand-alone, non-networked machine located away from the security screening area. Other passengers or the members of the public will be unable to see the images, and TSA officers are not allowed to bring cameras into the area where the images are being viewed.

Whatever you think of whole body scanning, don't appear to be worried about it, at least not at the airport, because the TSA announced in July, 2008 that it had also started conducting special random behavioral screening of passengers who display actions indicating stress, fear or deception.

Where Can You Can Get Whole Body Scanned?
By the end of 2008, TSA plans to have millimeter wave whole body scanning devices in operation at the following airports:

Baltimore-Washington, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Dallas/Fort-Worth, Detroit, Miami, Ronald Reagan Washington National, New York John F. Kennedy, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Boston, Indianapolis, New York LaGuardia, Tampa, San Juan, San Francisco, Buffalo, Chicago O'Hare, Richmond, Tulsa, Jacksonville and Raleigh-Durham. [Map]

The whole body screening process is a "secondary screening" level. That is, passengers randomly chosen for additional secondary screening have already passed through the traditional metal detector, x-ray, shoes-off security checkpoint.

Passengers randomly selected for secondary screening are allowed to choose either the whole body scan or a physical pat-down by a TSA officer. Remember when the hardest choice you had to make at the airport was "Coffee, tea or milk?"

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