TSA Issues More Private Body Scanning Software

by  Molly Fergus | Jul 20, 2011
TSA security checkpoint
TSA security checkpoint / PhonlamaiPhoto/iStock

No need to wear your good underwear when going through security anymore.

Starting today, the TSA is issuing new software that will make its controversial Advanced Imaging Technology a bit more private, according to a statement released this morning.

The current body scanners – 500 are installed at 78 airports nationwide – present a fairly detailed nude image of passengers, which let security officers find precariously hidden knives or explosives but leave many flyers feeling exposed, invaded, and, well, naked. Travelers who refuse to walk through the machines must submit to a rigorous pat-down.

Instead of showing flyers in the buff, this new software will display a generic body outline and pinpoint where any weapons might be; all airports with AIT machines in place will receive the new software.

The new system could also streamline the security process for TSA agents. When the scanners first debuted, the TSA required one employee to view and approve the images alone in a remotely located room – an effort to comfort passengers worried that the same guy ushering their carry-on down the conveyer belt was critiquing their abs behind the x-ray machine. The generic outline lets TSA agents skip that step and still spot any unwelcome carry-ons.

Wondering how it works? The software seems pretty similar to the original setup, it’s just less detailed:

“The new software automatically detects potential threats and indicates their location on a generic, computer-generated outline of a person that appears on a monitor attached to the AIT unit,” according to a TSA statement. “As with the current version of AIT, if a potential threat is detected, the area will require additional screening. If no potential threats are detected, an ‘OK’ appears on the monitor with no outline, and the passenger is cleared.”

Although the TSA doesn’t say that the new software is in direct response consumer complaints, that's likely the case; the experiment has been fraught with issues since the machines debuted in 2010. On the day before Thanksgiving, passengers protested the privacy invasion by hosting a “National Opt-Out Day,” in which angry flyers submitted to invasive pat-downs rather than walk through the body scanners; one Michigan bladder cancer survivor saw his urine-filled urostomy bag spill during a harsh pat-down in November; and just last month, a 95-year-old woman had to remove her adult diaper during a security check.

We’re thrilled that there is finally a compromise around these security measures, and that we no longer have to choose between being groped or being watched in the buff. Would you feel more comfortable using the scanners with this new software?

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