Full Body Scanners: The Naked Truth

by  Suzanne Steinert | Jan 7, 2010
TSA security checkpoint
TSA security checkpoint / PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock

Earlier this week news broke that the TSA plans to install 150 full body scanners (costing upwards of $200,000 each) in multiple U.S. airports this year, prompting a public outcry likening the new form of security to a “virtual strip search.” The scanners (versions of which have been tested at 19 of the country’s busiest airports since 2008) use low doses of electromagnetic radiation to produce detailed images that bare all beneath peoples’ clothes. Designed to reveal suspicious substances (metal, plastic, glass, liquids, etc.), the government argues the machines’ technology detects explosives of the type Abdulmutallab smuggled past security in his underwear on Christmas Eve – which pat downs or metal detectors can miss. The new scanners are slated to replace existing alternatives, like the “puffer” machines, which have been mostly abandoned after constantly breaking down. So, you’ve heard all the drama – but what’s the skinny on the scanners?

The process, completed inside a 9-foot-tall glass booth at the security checkpoint, takes on average about 30 seconds. The image produced is viewed by screeners in a nearby room, behind closed doors. The images show outlines of private body parts, but blur faces and (the TSA claims) are deleted after viewing. For now, passengers reluctant to go through the scanners may opt for a pat down instead. In Britain (which also adopted the scanners after the Christmas Day bombing attempt) children under 18 are barred from being scanned due to child pornography laws. In the Netherlands, officials plan to begin using the scanners on all passengers over the next few weeks.

What do you think? No big deal? Or are you perturbed about the peep show you may be providing and think this is one step where “security” goes too far? Do you agree with the technology, but think the TSA would do better to focus instead on who really needs the extra checks?

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