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Let's Get This TSA Full-Body Scanner Switcheroo Straight

January 21, 2013 at 4:35 PM | by | ()

The L3 body scanners you will see in airports from now on

News broke on Friday that TSA is removing Rapiscan full-body scanners, made by OSI Systems Inc., from airports. We wrote it up with a somewhat immodest reminder that we had put the move on your radar last October and called your attention to two salient details in the story.

One, that this is a software issue and not anything having to do with hardware or with full-body scanning or anything fundamental like that. Two, that TSA would be subbing in L3's millimeter-wave machines for the Rapiscan machines, essentially replacing one full-body scanner with another.

What happened is Congress told TSA to use scanners that produce feature-less outlines. So TSA told companies to make scanners that feature-less outlines. L3 developed what they call "Automatic Target Recognition," which makes machines display gingerbread man outlines, but OSI didn't develop anything similar. Ergo, TSA replaced OSI's machines with L3's machines.

Cue mass confusion on the Internet. Half the stories we saw incorrectly implied that TSA had abolished full-body scanners. The other half (the more entertaining half) explained that the misreporting was part of a conspiracy to lull America's sheeple into giving up their rights. God love you all, but wrong and wrong.

Yes, the TSA is going to be using full-body scanners for a long time. But no, that's not a conspiracy, and no one's trying to hide anything. TSA's invasive policies are the inevitable result of the way we balance privacy, security, and civil rights. As we've ranted before, if you want to change TSA you need to change American laws and policy discussions. TSA has its bad apples, but on the whole its agents are professionally implementing laws and regulations passed elsewhere.

In the meantime, it might be useful to revisit Jaunted's guide to different full-body scanner technology. TSA has been quite explicit that it is giving up on neither millimeter nor backscatter technology, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with both. But in the near-term, travelers should expect to encounter L3's millimeter scanners more rather than less.

[Photo: L3 Communications]

Archived Comments:


Hi. Bob here from the TSA Blog. Thanks for the post! In case you haven't seen it, here is our post on the subject. http://blog.tsa.gov/2013/01/rapiscan-backscatter-contract.html Thanks! Bob Burns TSA Blog Team

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