TSA Body Scans: Are Graphic, Full-Body Airport Scans Gone For Good?

By Philip Ross on May 31, 2013 3:24 PM EDT

tsa scan 1
The invasive TSA body scans have been removed from U.S. airports. A new variation of the technology has stepped in to take its place. (Photo: Reuters)
tsa scan 2
The original technology used in TSA body scans showed graphic images (pictured) of passengers’ bodies. The new iteration of the TSA body scan is less invasive, and only produces generic images of a flyer’s body that look more like a shadow with an outline. (Photo: Reuters)

The TSA body scans that had travelers up in arms have been removed from airports across the country. Fliers complained that the TSA body scans, short for Transportation Security Administration body scans, which allowed airport security attendants to see beneath passengers' clothing, violated their privacy.

The TSA still had a total of 174 of the "nude" scanners employed in 30 airports across the U.S. as of Jan. 2013. The deadline to pull the plug on these machines was June 1, 2013. TSA Administrator John Pistole announced this week that the process of removing the TSA body scanners is complete.

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Back in 2012, Congress ordered airlines to remove the TSA body scans, which cost about $180,000 each, according to NBC News. They ordered the removal of the "virtual strip searches" by June 1, 2013.

The invasive TSA body scanners have been decommissioned and replaced with a less offensive form of the body scanning technology. Mashable reports that the newer models of the TSA body scanners generate generic pictures of fliers' bodies, rather than the detailed naked images travelers had come to loath.

When airlines first installed the TSA body scans following the foiled underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009, they were equipped with an x-ray technology called Advanced Imaging Technology, or AIT, which made graphic detailed images of a person's body as he or she stood, arms in goalpost position, between the walls of the machine. The nascent technology, manufactured by California-based Rapiscan, received a ton of backlash because of the graphic nature of the images it produced.

The new generation of TSA body scanners use a technology called Automatic Target Recognition which highlights possible weapons with a colored box.

"As of May 16, 2013, all [Advanced Imaging Technology scanners] are equipped with ATR capability," Pistole said in a statement. "Additionally, TSA's procurement of next generation AIT requires ATR capability."

But are the full-body airport scans gone for good?

While TSA terminated its contract with Rapiscan because the company couldn't fix its technology before the April 1 deadline, it's not certain that TSA won't work with the manufacturer in the future. The company will have to develop the right kind of software, however, before that relationship can be mended. From CNN:

The decision to remove the backscatter machine will make moot, at least temporarily, travelers' concerns about the health effects of the machines. Backscatter machines use X-rays, while millimeter wave machines use radio waves.

Read more from iScience Times:

Body Scanners Being Removed: TSA Remove 'Naked' Scanners Before Congressional Deadline

CT Scans Not So Good For Heart Patients

Radiation Concerns Over Increasing CT Scan Use

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