Security Update: More TSA Body Scan Machines Coming to an Airport Near You

I wonder if Superman, with his X-ray vision, ever heard the kind of comments that erupt whenever a story about airport body scan machines appears.

Comments like, “Tell the TSA to stop buying machines that take naked pictures!” –from the TSA Blog

The TSA – or Transportation Security Administration – has taken a lot of guff about the airport screening machine some call a “virtual strip search” but the images it produces, while revealing, are not exactly pornographic – plus, faces are blurred and the images are not saved. It’s the latest tool designed to thwart terrorists and other would-be bad guys.

Most Americans are Okay With Body Scanners

And in the U.S., children do not go through these scanners – nor do adult have to submit to them; you can choose a patdown search instead. Side note: FareCompare’s Rick Seaney went through an airport body scan imagine machine earlier this year, and had no complaints.

And most Americans seem okay with the scanners: a USA Today poll in January showed that 78% “approve of the government’s use of body scanners at the nation’s airports” – and that approval came even if these folks believed the machines somehow compromised their privacy.

What did one TSA Scanner Really See?

Of course, the poll was taken before an incident this May in which one Miami TSA screener allegedly beat another after being teased about part of his anatomy that may or may not have been visible during a training exercise with that airport’s full body imaging machine.

Be that as it may, the TSA announced a few weeks ago that they’ve purchased 302 additional imaging technology units. In 2009, these machines were said to cost $170,000 a piece.

By the way, you won’t find the body scanners only at O’Hare and LAX and the like; some of these so-called “airport” machines are currently being deployed (or will be) in courthouses and even prisons.

Remember the Puffer Machines?

So far, security officials seem pleased with the way the body scanners are working, but you have to remember that, for awhile anyway, security folks were enamored with the so-called “puffer” machines, or “explosive trace portal devices”. Remember those? They worked by shooting blasts of air on people, which was then supposed to dislodge and identify traces of explosives.

Problem was, theseairport security machines kept breaking down – and, giving out false positives -but not before the TSA spent nearly $30 million dollars on the devices, with not much to show for it.

Keep Taking Off Your Shoes

But they say security is an evolving, ever-changing business – it has to be. And we are going to have to live with a lot of inconvenience, one way or the other.

And most passengers seem to get this, and go along with it – but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about it. Now, if we could just keep our shoes on at the airport…

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Published: May 13, 2010