TSA Taking Away Your Right to Opt Out of Naked Imaging Screening

The Department of Homeland Security has published a privacy impact assessment for the use of ‘Advanced Imaging Technology’ — in other words, ‘nude-o-scopes’ the whole body imaging machines that you step into and ‘assume the position’.

The document was reviewed by the person holding perhaps the single most Orwellian federal job title: Chief Privacy Officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

They published this assessment because they are changing the procedure for these machines, giving themselves the discretion to eliminate the option of passengers opting out of these machines.

TSA does not say the circumstances in which optional nude-o-scope screening becomes mandatory. They will decide ‘as warranted’ (in their sole, and unreviewable judgment). Thus a given screening may insist that a passenger go through the full body imaging devices, even when the passenger ‘opts out’, and they may insist upon this for any reason or no reason.


Playmobil Airport Security Playset — Traditional Metal Detector

The machines that TSA uses are now millimeter wave, rather that ‘backscatter’ machines that exposed passengers to an untested amount of radiation. And current software does not display or store fully naked images of passengers.


    Backscatter Machines are No Longer in Use at US Airports

The use of these machines has been ruled illegal several times, most recently in October, because TSA has failed to follow federal law which requires it to promulgate a rule for their use.

Fortunately if you have TSA PreCheck or Global Entry (and thus TSA PreCheck) you are usually — although not always — excused from these machines. And you’re usually excused from them if you have PreCheck on your boarding pass and PreCheck is closed.

(HT: txflyer77)

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. Wow, this article seems really alarmist and misleading. You admit that they no longer use nude-o-scopes, and yet all of your links and commentary are basically about the nude-o-scopes. You even use the headline “naked imaging” – the machines now in use are not naked imaging machines. They don’t produce naked imaging. This is really disappointing as I usually love your commentary.

  2. Did you check the image? He might be hiding something behind that. Clearly enjoying the scan too much.

  3. The AIT+ATR combo does rely upon images of naked passenger bodies. It’s still a strip-search contraption.

    It will be interesting to see what the TSA decideS to do to punish people using wheelchairs or other mobility-assisting devices and/or who have an arm in a sling. Such people can’t all be made to make the “surrender” pose.

  4. Just because a device may rely upon non-ionizing radiation doesn’t necessarily mean the device poses no serious risks to the health of persons subjected to devices that aren’t using. ionizing radiation.

    Whether these strip search machines wanted by the TSA are a health risk or not for passengers is far from certain. Many things now recognized as a health risk were not always before known to be a health risk. But even if these strip search machines are benign in terms of health risks, they are still an expensive waste of money that costs passengers way too much in terms of time and money without being highly-effective in stopping even bullets from getting smuggled thru the strip-search machines.

  5. Note that I mention in the article that the machines TSA uses no longer employ backscatter radiation. I am not concerned with the health risk.

    The machines DO rely on naked imaging. The software masks the images. And TSA assures the current generation machines do not store the images (earlier incarnations did cone with the ability to store images but we’re supposed to have the function turned off when in use).

    In most circumstances it seems that you will still be able to opt out. Except when you can’t. It is no longer your right to opt out, under these rules, but TSA discretion.

  6. I think you confused the issue a bit: to me, the story here is that the TSA is unilaterally making a change to screening procedures that are currently illegal anyway. You *are* losing some privacy rights here, and it’s absolutely unclear why (though I would guess more than a few “good apples” were caught with their pants down trying to force passengers through these without pat downs).

    With all that said, this particular technology does seem like basically a natural evolution of metal detectors. Seemingly, most people didn’t mind being subjected to metal detectors (in fact, I can’t think of a single country I’ve visited that didn’t have them somewhere clearly segregating the “airside” of the terminal). These machines seem like the natural next step (not all guns are made of metal now).

    Backscatter scanners were an entirely different beast. There are records of TSA employees using the “review rooms” for sex and other unprofessional conduct.

  7. Dave said, “The current body scanners in most airports use rays that are non ionizing. There is no known health risks.”

    The problem with that statement is it’s a disjunction elimination, because it’s premise is false.

    Boian S. Alexandrov, with colleagues, at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico demonstrated that MMW (terahertz) waves, like the ones these full body scanners produce, could “…unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication,” under some conditions. In other words these MMW waves could affect a person’s DNA.

    To date, there have been no independent long term studies of these scanners ever made to be best of my knowledge, and I’ve looked for them, which is why Dave’s statement is a disjunction elimination.

    Simply stated, of course there are no known health risks with the MMW scanners. As there has never been any long term studies of the scanners performed, it’s impossible for any of their health risks to be known. You can’t know of any if you never test for them.

  8. They claimed in the past that they didn’t store the images and it was proven that they did. Now they say “This time we *really* mean it.” Give me a break.

  9. Airport security in the USA is nightmare. Everyone hates it and let’s get real: no one is any safer in the air, because the guy who used serve me my Big Mac is now operating the Nude-o-scope in what ever incarnation it is now being “forced” on us. Ugh!

  10. yawn…same same as always. Seriously, give it up. Que the Libertarian rant from Gary about those who don’t stand against injustice..blah-blah–blah. Let it go, you’ll be happier

  11. I’ve read many a post of you going after the TSA. Frankly, a lot of your points have some merit, but eventually you either have to let it go or offer some viable solutions, and mostly you just seem to want to share your unhappiness in an eloquent way. I hardly think that there are a lot of TSA fans, well, anywhere, but inventing derisive names like “nude-o-scope” doesn’t do much to make the flying public any happier or safer.
    If you really think these post actually help, then keep going. I think that you made your point a long time ago. You write an amazing blog, with great content and unique insight. Maybe it’s best to drop this particular fight for a while.

  12. I don’t think pre-check is the panacea it used to be. Flying for the holidays, people in the pre-check line were randomly told that they had to step into the death box. So now if you refuse the death box you can’t fly? Congress needs to get on this. It should always be optional.

  13. Libertarian rant from Gary sums it up right. A government security checkpoint at the airport will be his point of contention no matter what. Lousy security would be called government waste. A super-efficient and effective security checkpoint would be the sign of an overbearing government. The agenda comes first. Anything else is just supporting evidence for the agenda.

  14. I had a shoulder injury (SLAP tear) which caused me to be unable to raise my left arm over my head without pain. Prior to getting Precheck, I invoked the TSA medical exemption, which allows passengers with physical limitations to go through the metal detector instead and did _NOT_ require an additional gropedown. Do you know whether the rules for the medical exemption are affected by this new policy? (Obviously they wouldn’t be able to make me do something I was physically unable to do, but I’m wondering if they’re now able to require groping even for someone taking the medical exemption.) I still rely on this in the odd cases where I don’t get Precheck, so it’d be very helpful to know in advance if the implementation of that policy has changed.

  15. The belief that there is no health risk is what you’ve been told. I believe that “agent orange” and “ddt” were also said to be completely safe. Why aren’t we using that now?
    My health is, my health. I should have the right to determine what I want to expose myself to, and what I don’t want to expose myself to. I am required by my company to travel. I “opt out” because I know that being pat down is much safer than the alternative. I believe this was the plan all along. Attrition is the method for stripping peoples privacy and rights away. If you don’t exercise your rights, you will lose them.

  16. hey everybody, many if not most liberals have always been opposed to overbearing, oppressive governments. This idea that liberals are for big government and conservatives for small government first emerged in the past few years and is mostly bogus. Both of the major parties in the US have always been for big government. I think people of all stripes are concerned about arbitrary, useless ‘security checks’, which waste valuable money, are a major inconvenience and don’t make anybody any safer. Except maybe the people in charge of the DHS: if an attack were to happen, they won’t be blamed for being the people who abolished the nude-o-scopes (even though we all know the nude-o-scopes will never prevent an attack, those can only be prevented through traditional intelligence and police work)

  17. This may become more and more of an issue even if you have precheck. With pre-check lanes being reduced to save money even in the busiest of airports, don’t think that this won’t impact you. Further reducing pre-check lanes will be the end of pre-check freebies–lower demand so shut those lanes down. “Modified Precheck” is hit or miss depending on the day, the airport and the staff.. The justification for them not wanting to do the pat-down will be a lack of personnel or a lack of personnel wanting to do it. I expect the next time ‘opt out’ comes out of my mouth, I’ll be told that you can’t do that anymore and to get in the nude-o-scope. As I climb out of the nude-o-scope, I’ll be looking for the TSA supervisor for a chat.

  18. Gary is right about the security theater.
    Look at how Israel does security and you’ll find a much more efficient system-starting with the complete waste of manpower after 15 yrs of someone required to shout out the same thing over and over about your shoes, etc. It needs to be on talking video screens.
    You won’t get near the airport until someone has looked over the passenger and driver.

  19. Stupid TSA is at it again.
    Is this all they can think of in order to look at naked bodies of any traveler who opt out?

  20. We were told the backscatter machines were safe until the other machine manufacturer lobbied the right folks and got their machines in place. Then massive replacements started in the name of eliminating those risky backscatter machines. I’ve got pre-check and have always opted out (before pre-check took me out of that requirement). I put up with the extra wait and being treated like I was stupid and getting lectured on how safe the new machines were (they don’t respond well to the point that they said the same thing about how safe the old machines were prior to the introduction of the new machines.) Bottom line, this is a huge waste of taxpayer money and will likely be a health risk to folks who go through them frequently. Things get through TSA because they looking for a needle in a haystack by examining every piece of straw to determine if it is a needle. If they’d profile and look for behavior variations they’d do better.

  21. FYI – those with TSA Pre-Check are now subject to random compulsory body scans, per my experience at TSA in Akron, OH yesterday.

    I was flagged while going through the metal detector for Pre-Check. The agent handed me a laminated green sheet and told me I was randomly selected for additional screening and needed to go through the full body screening machine.

    When I tried to opt-out I was told that was “no longer an option for those with TSA Pre-Check.”

    I pushed back until a manager was called over (and several other passengers were taking note of my distress), finally having to reveal my (very early) pregnancy to them as justification for my opt-out.

    To their credit, the agents immediately respected my opt-out and we moved forward with the pat down. That being said, there seems to be a lot of confusion about this new opt-out policy among agents on the ground. I was not given any assurance that my pregnancy will be sufficient opt-out justification in the future, just told that the rules had changed and those with TSA Pre-Check are not eligible for opting-out.

    Would love to hear if anyone else has run into this…

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