Nude-o-Scopes are NOT Going Away at Airports

Lots of misleading headlines today, such as this one from Gizmodo: “TSA to Remove Naked-Image Scanners From US Airports”

The machines we have to work through at major airports — collectively dubbed ‘nude-o-scopes’ by many passengers whose bodies and privacy are invaded by them on a daily basis — are going to continue to be used.

What’s going away are the backscatter x-ray machines, and those are being replaced by millimeter wave machines.

Backscatter machines have already been gradually removed from major airports, and moved to less trafficked airports.

Now, since the company that manufactures them seems unable to hit contract targets for software that obscures our private parts (and may have even faked test results), the TSA is pulling the plug. Those machines will wind up being used elsewhere in the government. All that Rapiscan, the manufacturer, loses is a $5 million software contract and future sales.

But we’ll still have to walk inside the larger machines, ‘assume the position’ and wait to be seen nekkid.

The millimeter wave machines, though, don’t have the radiation exposure that the backscatter versions did. So there’s an improvement.

But for many of the nation’s largest airports, this isn’t even a change at all from the status quo.

What’s more, this may not even be the end of backscatter machines — just the end of Rapiscan’s machines at airports — since the TSA still has a contract with American Science for backscatter technology.

So this seems to be a story that’s getting way overplayed today, and doesn’t represent nearly the shift in policy that it’s being made out as.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m beginning to be OK with the millimeter wave machines specifically because of the relative safety of the radiation amount and type (I’d still feel better if there were peer-reviewed, not TSA-sponsored, studies confirming it’s not harmful) and the fact that there isn’t someone in a back office watching your unclothed image–the software is (AFAIK) automated, and the only thing that anyone sees is the same LCD panel display you see of yourself when you exit the machine, directing the TSA agent towards any areas where something may be hidden. Am I misinformed on that? Is there still someone in a back room seeing me?

  2. I just got through Sacramento security, and chose to opt out of the scanner.although TSA agents seemed annoyed and took their sweet time patting me down, it always seems as though I end up getting The pat down anyway, so I figured I’d take out the middle man.

  3. It’s also worth noting that MMW scanning technology is NOT necessarily safe as some believe:

    – There is very little data on the effects on repeated MMW exposure on the human body, especially since it is known that these wavelengths can modify gene material

    – The dose utilized by these machines is unquantified and unknown.

    – Even if the dose were known, the same problem as for the XRay machines exist. Since these machines are not medical-grade, a momentary software glitch could expose one area to a much higher dose than intended.

    As always, read http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf. It applies to MMW in many ways, too. There is NO independent safety data.

  4. @gary – Are there any consequences for transgendered travelers like myself if we book our airline ticket based our “public” gender versus our genetic one?

    I’m curious if a passenger was ever denied boarding based on the TSA seeing something on a “female” passenger that shouldn’t be there.

  5. Gary I find it interesting that people complain about the scanner in the first place. When people get a cat scan at the hospital your junk shows up in greater detail than at the airport. But I guess it is OK that it happens in a hospital than the airport.

  6. Well the issue with these images at a hospital is simple. With a hospital the images are viewed by qualified staff and there are HIPPA regulations in place that attempt to enforce some standards. Additionally, the staff that are viewing these issues will most likely be skilled professionals.

    With the TSA viewing these images I could write all day, but 4 points to start out are…
    -How many convicted sex offenders and pedophiles has the TSA hired?
    -Fourth amendment rights.
    -Where is the randomness in this screening when there are no other options. Additionally, how many cases have there been where TSA employees “randomly” select a person for the backscatter just for the images.
    -There have been a number of cases where these images are retained, which we are told they are not. Plus some images have even taken these pictures home.

    Tony, you are naive to compare your average TSA employee to a medical worker. I equate the creation of the TSA as the best thing that ever happened for Burger King employees and convicts. Additionally, there are HIPPA regulations in place while the TSA is held accountable to no one and they aren’t audited by independent third parties.

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