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Airport ‘Nude’ Body Scanners: Are They Effective? | Wired

The body scanners rolling out to airports nationwide may violate travelers’ privacy, and they might even cause cancer.

But they prevent terrorists from wreaking havoc. Or do they?

Some research claims the machines — which produce a virtual nude image of the body — might not detect explosives or even guns taped to a person’s body. The U.S. government has reservations about their efficacy, as well. And even proponents of the technology concede the machines are not designed to detect so-called “booty bombs” — explosive devices concealed inside the human body.

“It’s not a possibility of the technology,” said Peter Kant, executive vice president of Los Angeles-based Rapiscan Systems, which has deployed 250 of its backscatter X-ray devices and another 250 are on the way. “None of the body scanners used by TSA are capable of doing that. They’re not designed to do that nor is it a requirement.”

Along with potential health issues, the efficacy of the so-called “advanced imaging technology” scanners will be a key issue Thursday when a high-profile lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center is heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. EPIC is challenging the TSA, which last year began placing about 500 of the $180,000 machines in 78 airports nationwide. Hundreds more machines are to be deployed this year.


“While there is no silver bullet technology, advanced imaging technology is a highly effective security tool which can detect both metallic and nonmetallic threats, including weapons and explosives,” Sarah Horowitz, a TSA spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail. “Using this critical technology, TSA routinely detects artfully concealed metallic and nonmetallic prohibited items.”

Horowitz added that the machines detected more than “130 prohibited, illegal or dangerous items at checkpoints nationwide since January of last year.”

Oral arguments in the lawsuit are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. EST on Thursday. Threat Level will cover the hearing from the courtroom.

Lets do some math. 

500 machines (and counting) x $180,000 = $90,000,000.

$90,000,000 / 130 prohibited, illegal or dangerous items (most of which were likely things like nail clippers, etc. forgotten by passengers) detected by the machines = $692,307.69 per detected items.

By the way, only 130 items detected about of the millions of passengers that have flown throughout the United States since January of last year? Something tells me that these machines are terribly ineffective. But hey, we’re stopping those terrorists, right? 


MPR hosts keep saying that rather than opting out of back-scatter scanner (thereby opting-in to sexual assault?) which provides you with an undisclosed amount of radiation you should ‘just go along’ with whatever the TSA asks of you.  

This sounds like some of the advice given to women, if you ever find yourself the victim of a rape just go along with whatever he says.  The implied threat is that there is NO WAY that a woman should or even could stand up to a man and that things will be much much worse if she should try to.  

Left out of this advice usually is the point that in the [rare] event the rape goes to trial the question (in addition to ‘how much of a slut was she before?’ and ‘can we afford to tarnish this man’s reputation?’) then becomes “Why didn’t you speak up if you didn’t consent?”

TSA Agent at Denver overheard saying "Heads up - got a cutie for you" to colleague about an 18-year-old female passenger singled out for the new body imaging scanner.


Don’t go through the body imaging scanners, and if then subjected to the “enhanced” pat-down, make it very clear that you consider what the TSA is doing as sexual assault and a violation of your privacy, and that you will report them to the ACLU and EPIC.

You should also file a complaint with TSA.

[H]ow far are we willing to go to prevent weapons or bombs from getting on airplanes? In the past decade, terrorists on airplanes have killed just about 3,000 people — all on one day. Even if the Christmas Day bomber had succeeded, the number would be under 3,500. Those are horrible deaths. But in that same period, more than 150,000 people have been murdered in the United States. We haven’t put the entire U.S. on lockdown — or even murder capitals like Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore

TSA Full-Body Scanners: Protecting Passengers or Padding Pockets?