X-ray scanners withdrawn from US airports

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Transportation Security Administration has given up and announced that it will no longer be using some controversial body scanners at US airports, as software developers have been unable to make the images any less revealing.

The scanners were first introduced back in 2009, and caused controversy immediately. Passengers complained that they were intrusive. After years of complaints, the TSA finally announced that it was asking the scanner manufacturer, OSI Systems, to redesign its software.

But OSI hasn't done so, and the TSA has now lost patience and decided to end its $5 million contract with the company, removing 174 of its Rapiscan units from US airports, Bloomberg reports. It had already got rid of 76 machines last year.

Instead, the TSA will use a smaller number of machines from its other supplier  L-3 Communications Holdings - which had been able to make its images less revealing when asked. The two companies use different techniques for scanning, with OSI using backscatter X-ray technology and L-3 millimeter waves.

OSI's machines won't go on the scrap heap: they're to be given to other government departments.

"It became clear to TSA [that OSI] would be unable to meet our timeline," Karen Shelton Waters, the agency’s assistant administrator for acquisitions, tells Bloomberg. "As a result of that, we terminated the contract for the convenience of the government."

OSI is keeping a stiff upper lip.

"We have had a close working relationship with TSA and its predecessor agencies for the better part of two decades, during which time we have together pioneered many of the transportation security technologies in use today," says OSI president and CEO, Deepak Chopra.

"As we continue that relationship, we look forward to continuing to provide leading-edge technologies and services to the TSA."