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Is the TSA Giving Up on Nude-O-Scope Scanners?

October 22, 2012 at 12:00 PM | by | ()

TSA officials have worked hard to defend their use of full-body scanners. The agency has just beaten a lawsuit by a Florida man challenging the machines' use. On the broader question of addressing the public—and despite literally years of legal action—courts continue to let TSA drag its feet on getting public feedback. Backscatter machines got installed in PHX as recently as this month.

The agency has put a lot of time and effort into keeping these things in airports, in other words. And yet now comes word from ProPublica that in fact TSA is removing some backscatter from some major airports. What the hell?

TSA officials insist they're merely moving the machines to smaller airports, because that will speed things up everywhere. A cynic might counter that putting controversial machines at smaller airports also means smaller controversy, and that this simple math might have something to do with TSA's decision. Either way, it's a shift.

As for what the next generation of TSA scanners will look like, assuming that the agency really has made a strategic decision to shift away from nude-o-scopes: there are at least two options.

The first replacements will probably come in the form of TSA's Gingerbread Man scanners, which we overviewed here and which the agency subsequently rolled out a few months later. There's already some proof for this theory. As backscatter machines were getting removed from Boston's Logan Airport, Gingerbread Man scanners were getting installed.

A little more speculative are the next generation of hackproof, super-effective scanners that Pentagon scientists are developing for DHS. These scanners will have cutting-edge technology with the ability to "identify novel signatures distinct from those typically employed in conventional X-ray" machines, the result being a "reduced probability of false alarm." So on the one hand, there's a reduced chance of an unnecessary pat-down, and that's good.

On the other hand, we're not sure it's a good idea to have DARPA - the kids who make killer drones that autonomously navigate across battlefields by talking to satellites—putting their skills at TSA's disposal. Will TSA agents be able to use whatever they're given correctly? Because the thing about TSA, you see, is that it's been known to more than once to screw up tasks and then lie about what happened. Someone's taking all that into consideration, right?

[Photo: Transportation Security Administration / Wiki Commons]

Archived Comments:

Sketchy Scanner Program

This is worse than the puffer scandal. In eleven years taxpayers have wasted $80 billion dollars on TSA only to get worse results than before. The Europeans don't allow the scanners to be used on children because the image is so graphic it violates child pornography laws. Germany banned them and went back to metal detectors because of the 54% false positive rate while failing to detect items 40% of the time. The 244 Rapi-Scan backscatter x-ray units pose a cancer risk and produce a naked image that Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom said were "graphic, no doubt about it.". By sending children through the x-ray scanners TSA is producing child pornography in violation of numerous State and Federal laws. Only TSA could get away with making child pornography all day and get paid to do it. The scanner program should be halted immediately and TSA forced to correct the rampant problems in the current scanner program. The x-ray units pose a potential health risk and research has shown that the x-ray scanners prove harmful to women with BRCA gene causing a heightened risk of cancer. The scanners have not been independently tested and lawsuits are still pending on questions regarding their safety. TSA has not taken comment on the deployment of the current scanners despite being ordered by a court to do so before the end of 2012. The will not be resolved until late in 2013 and no scanners should be bought or installed until that process is complete. Does anyone really feel safer having people who will rub stranger's genitals in public for $15 an hour in charge of security? There were no hijackings between 2002 and 2009 without these punitive measures and they aren't necessary now. This is an outrageous waste of taxpayer funds given the current budget crisis. Millions of dollars that are desperately needed elsewhere are being wasted on TSA and its gadgets without improving security or the pitiful quality of TSA workers. TSA is beyond salvage and must be replaced. The incessant abuses, failures and crimes have caused too much public animosity for this agency to ever be reputable.