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After Outrage Over Full-Body Scanners, TSA Rolls Out 'Gingerbread Man' Scans

February 2, 2011 at 3:02 PM | by | Comments (0)

TSA's gropey searches and pervy full-body scanning machines combined to make the agency 2010's Biggest Travel Villain. Just the month of December 2010 saw a bunch of anger directed at the machines, and 2011 started off with a lawsuit settlement over some bad apple TSA agents who sexually humiliated a woman at a checkpoint (allegedly). Now the organization is looking to fix its reputation and make flying slightly less uncomfortable for American citizens, starting with new and less invasive imaging technology. Yes, they totally remind us of gingerbread men, too.

The new scanning technique—new to the US but not so new to select international airports, like Amsterdam's Schiphol—projects a featureless androgynous image, and then uses an algorithm to decide whether a passenger is hiding anything. A green light means the passenger gets to go through, but a red light indicates that the computer saw something it didn't like. If you're unfortunate enough to get the red light you'll be sent to the corner for some TSA Naughty Time with a gloved agent, but the whole setup is still a huge improvement over the current system, which is invasive scanners plus invasive searches. The new feature can be incorporated into either backscatter or millimeter wave machines.

All of this begs a very important question: why wasn't this technology incorporated into the first version of full-body scanners? Or more bluntly, as it was put in FlyingWithFish's post, what took so long?

Presumably TSA's answer would be that they wanted to roll out scanners as soon as possible, and the less invasive technology wasn't ready yet. That'd be an OK answer except—in a very precise sense—the more invasive technology wasn't ready yet either. It was obviously unacceptable to a large swath of the flying public, which is why TSA is now scrambling for new machines. So while it may have been technologically ready, it wasn't politically ready in the US, which means it wasn't ready at all.

If you're a politician and you're given a plan that the public is bound to reject, correct response is "well obviously this still isn't ready." Going with "well let's spend billions on it and see where we end up" is, alternatively, incorrect.

This is where a more cynical travel blog might suggest that the entire rush-to-deploy was engineered by ever-growing scanner lobbies, since their clients got to double up by selling boatloads of scanners twice. But that's not this blog. Here at Jaunted, we're more likely to assume that TSA screwed up because they're tone deaf have a near-zero understanding of public sentiment, on account of being kind of incompetent.

[Photo: Flying With Fish]

Related Stories:
· TSA debuts new scanner software [WaPo Dr. Gridlock]
· Technology [Jaunted]
· Airport Security [Jaunted]

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