TSA moves to less-revealing body scans

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is now rolling out new software nationwide that gives far less revealing body scanner images.

Tested earlier this year, the software merely identifies potential threat items and indicates their location on a generic, cookie-cutter outline of a person.

Over the next few months, says the TSA, the software will be installed on every millimeter wave imaging technology unit in the field, and future millimeter wave units will come with it pre-installed. 

"There are currently nearly 500 AIT units in the field (both backscatter and millimeter wave), and there are plans to roll out even more later this year," the TSA promises on its blog.

"As far as backscatter units, there are plans to test similar software in the fall."

The move has been cautiously welcomed by campaigners, with the American Civil Liberties Union describing it as a significant improvement. But, it warns, it doesn't go far enough.

"Privacy concerns especially remain for those who have 'anomalies' that must be investigated, such as people with adult diapers, prosthetic breasts following mastectomies, colostomy appliances, catheter tubes – even just lumps on their body," says the ACLU's
Jay Stanley.

"This software would do nothing about the TSA’s extremely intrusive and offensive pat-down policy. And if the software has the effect of increasing the scanner 'alarm' rate compared to more discerning human screeners, it could actually lead to more pat-downs.

The announcement also does nothing to address concerns that the raw nude images may still be accessible to the machines' operators, meaning there's still a risk of them leaking into the public domain.