TSA to have backscatter virtual nudity scanner in Phoenix airport by Christmas

USA Today on Friday had, via AP, an article about the controversial body scanner with "backscatter" technology that graphically reveals everything about your body, in an effort to see what an airline passenger may be carrying on his or her body.  Don't want to be seen nude on a computer screen?  Then you can be subjected to a patdown instead.

Sky Harbor International Airport here will test a new federal screening system that takes X-rays of passenger's bodies to detect concealed explosives and other weapons.

The technology, called backscatter, has been around for several years but has not been widely used in the U.S. as an anti-terrorism tool because of privacy concerns.

The Transportation Security Administration said it has found a way to refine the machine's images so that the normally graphic pictures can be blurred in certain areas while still being effective in detecting bombs and other threats.

The agency is expected to provide more information about the technology later this month but said one machine will be up and running at Sky Harbor's Terminal 4 by Christmas.

The security agency's website indicates that the technology will be used initially as a secondary screening measure, meaning that only those passengers who first fail the standard screening process will be directed to the X-ray area.

Even then, passengers will have the option of choosing the backscatter or a traditional pat-down search.

A handful of other U.S. airports will have the X-rays machines in place by early 2007 as part of a nationwide pilot program, TSA officials said.

From the Electronic Privacy Information Center website:

The backscatter machines use high-energy X-rays that are more likely to scatter than penetrate materials as compared to lower-energy X-rays used in medical applications. Although this type of X-ray is said to be harmless, it can move through other materials, such as clothing. When being screened, a passenger is scanned by high-energy X-ray beam moving rapidly over her body. The signal strength of detected backscattered X-rays from a known position then allows a highly realistic image to be reconstructed. In the case of airline-passenger screening, the image is of the traveler's nude form. The image resolution of the technology is high, so the picture of the body presented to screeners is detailed enough to show genitalia. These images are not necessarily temporary - screeners can save the body images to the system's hard disk or floppy disk for subsequent viewing on either "the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics."

What does TSA have to say about patdowns and backscatter technology?

Question: What are TSA's policies regarding pat-downs and how are they serving a security need?

Answer:  TSA expanded its pat down procedures to strengthen its ability to detect explosives at the security checkpoints.  Transportation security officers (TSOs) use the front of the hand to screen a passenger's entire back and abdomen, the arms from shoulder to wrist and legs from mid-thigh to ankle.  TSOs communicate with the passenger and explain the process prior to conducting the search. Pat-downs are conducted by TSOs of the same gender whenever possible and private screenings are available at the passenger's request. Patting down the chest area may be conducted if there is an alarm from a hand-held metal detector or an irregularity in the person's clothing outline.  TSOs conduct the inspections in a professional, respectful manner, while maintaining the highest security standards.

Question: How has TSA addressed the issues of privacy while piloting Backscatter technology?

Answer: TSA met with privacy advocates to incorporate privacy concerns into the development of Backscatter Technology.  In response to those concerns, TSA required that the companies responsible for developing Backscatter technology incorporate a privacy algorithm into their technology.  This privacy algorithm would eliminate much of the detail shown in the images of the individual while still being effective from a security standpoint.  Further, Backscatter images will not be retained in the system, will not be capable of being printed, and will be deleted as each individual steps away from the machine to allow a new individual to be screened.

What's the next step?  They want to see through your clothes to get onto an airplane.  What has happened to the "reasonable expectation of privacy"?  

Liberty--the freedom from unwarranted intrusion by government--is as easily lost through insistent nibbles by government officials who seek to do their jobs too well as by those whose purpose it is to oppress; the piranha can be as deadly as the shark.

--United States v. $124,570, 873 F.2d 1240, 1246 (9th Cir. 1989).

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  • Display: Sort:
    Nudity (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Pete Guither on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:03:51 PM EST
    Since they're already going to be taking naked pictures of people, I wonder how they'd react if someone actually got naked and walked through security?

    Reaction? (4.00 / 1) (#12)
    by squeaky on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:37:17 PM EST
    You would be immediately arrested for giving away state secrets. That information is only for those who have security clearance.

    Not to worry (none / 0) (#14)
    by squeaky on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:26:39 PM EST
    I hear that they are hiring. All you need is a GED and a good American name.

    Best Man (1.00 / 0) (#30)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 08:35:23 AM EST
    Don't know, but it would quickly settle all claims about who the best man was.

    Oooh (none / 0) (#34)
    by aw on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 09:43:23 AM EST
    I thought you asked upthread whether anybody would care.  But you really like to look, dont you?

    Root cause (1.00 / 0) (#32)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 08:53:59 AM EST
    Well boys and girls, all this is very entertaining, but I must ask this.

    Why do we have all of the complaints about the security, and none about the Moslem terrorists that are the root cause of the problem?

    And yes, there have been a couple of non-Moslem terrorist hijackings, none of which resulted in death or destruction.

    There is a wonderful new tool called google... (none / 0) (#35)
    by Edger on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 10:24:51 AM EST
    ...and it's even part of the biggest library ever invented...and, you happen to be sitting right in front of it.

    See Jim, nobody here has been buying for years now. From Bush, or from you. I know it's hard to do, but maybe one day you'll notice that.

    Try looking up "root causes".


    After all, 0.00000001357% of the... (none / 0) (#36)
    by Bill Arnett on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 10:54:01 AM EST
    ...world's Muslims attacked us on 9/11/01.

    0.00000001357%!!!!!!! OMG, they're everywhere! Run away! Run Away! Be afraid! Be afraid!


    Not only that... (none / 0) (#37)
    by Edger on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 10:59:34 AM EST
    It's been approximately 1,896 days since September 11, 2001.

    This is getting really serious.

    Based on a ratio of 1:1896 maybe we'd better lock down the whole damn country and attack everyone else in the world?

    Especially the brown ones. They're real easy to spot so Jim and George can point and scream.

    Ya think?


    Give it up, Jim. (none / 0) (#38)
    by Edger on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 11:02:54 AM EST
    Here's a prediction (none / 0) (#1)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:10:04 AM EST
    Speaking as woman, this will destroy the airline industry.  NFW am I going through one of those.

    And I had a patdown once. (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:12:29 AM EST
    After that I have only worn a non-underwire bra when traveling.

    Actually (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:36:44 AM EST
    I have worn other stuff in addition to the bra.

    How intrusive (none / 0) (#15)
    by hellskitchen on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:57:26 PM EST
    is a pat down?  

    And is the pat down done by a person of the same sex?  As a woman, I'd be more inclined to go for the pat down if it's not too intrusive and done by a woman.

    My mother-in-law died recently and the whole family is going to Europe for a memorial service, otherwise I'd say forget the trip.


    I lost my pants (none / 0) (#17)
    by Pete Guither on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 02:03:39 PM EST
    Coming back to the United States from Prague I had to go through a pat-down.  I had lost quite a bit of weight and my pants were too loose (and my belt went through the x-ray).  So I had to hold my arms outstretched while he patted all my clothing (including my pants).  I was about to celebrate the fact that my pants had stayed up, when he told me to keep my arms up and turn around so he could pat me down again.

    The pants went down to my ankles in front of the entire packed gate room.

    Oh, well.

    There were a whole lot of Czech people traveling to the U.S. who learned whether I wore boxers or briefs.


    Care?? (1.00 / 0) (#31)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 08:37:01 AM EST
    The question is, did anyone care??



    Any handling is intrusive (none / 0) (#20)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 05:47:36 PM EST
    Well it was humiliating that it was done at all.  It makes you feel like a piece of livestock.

    The female who patted me down was kind of jiggling my boobs (that's your underwire, okay, that's your underwire) in front of everyone.  I'm really not happy about being handled by strangers, male or female, like that.

    I knew she was just trying to make a living and she was polite, but I was really seething inside.


    Re: Any handling is intrusive (none / 0) (#44)
    by hellskitchen on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 06:26:23 PM EST

    Thanks for the information.  Maybe there'll be a lawsuit on the security of our persons, but I'm not optimistic.

    Pete Guither-  Lost your pants, hysterical.  


    Backscatter (none / 0) (#4)
    by Skyho on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:34:28 AM EST
    Why does anyone consider this useful?

    Anyone can stuff several pounds of explosives in a place where neo-cons normally keep their heads and this will not "detect" that.

    There is a technological way to do it in a non-intrusive manner but neither Halliburton nor the Carlyle Group owns that technology.

    Gee, guess I answered my own question.....


    wait til (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jen M on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:33:22 AM EST
    they start picking on kids

    It'll (none / 0) (#7)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:44:48 AM EST
    be child pornography of a sort.  What parents are going to allow that?

    The old (none / 0) (#5)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:34:56 AM EST
    Soviet Union trusted their citizens so much they used to use internal passports as one of their methods for restricting travel to help them undermine their citizens ability to move around freely and unwatched.

    The US government is getting much better at it with much more subtle methods. As one of the wingnut trolls said in another thread here yesterday: "If the government already has this information, they damn well better use it effectively".

    The Soviets were, the Nazis were, and the Chinese are much better at using this kind of information effectively.

    It's about time the US politburo... I mean executive branch... caught up, right?

    Can't have other countries showing them up, right?


    And they CLAIM that the high-energy... (none / 0) (#8)
    by Bill Arnett on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:57:19 AM EST
    ...x-rays are not harmful, but for someone like me who had six weeks of radiation treatments for cancer (I lost 55 pounds, but it's not a diet plan I recommend to anyone) where I got darn near a lifetime dosage of radiation. Over 7,000 rads.

    The VA is very careful now to limit any x-rays taken of me, preferring now to use MRIs or CAT scans when the need arises, so that I don't risk further radiation exposure (the radiation scarring in my throat, which takes about ten years to fully manifest itself, is horrible and endlessly contributes to my pain).

    How can they guarantee to a person like me that further radiation exposure from their machines won't "push me over the line" into radiation caused cancers?

    And make no mistake, for efficiencies sake they will be planning to use these exclusively someday to expedite passenger through-put.

    Completely harmless - yeah, right. :-/ (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:19:12 PM EST
    Scanning Technologies
    Airports rely heavily on projection-type x-ray machines to examine carry-on luggage and checked baggage for explosives and weapons.

    X raying of passengers, however, has until recently, been out of the question due to the negative health effects of xray radiation. X-ray photons are ionizing, that is, can knock electrons loose from atoms, disturbing whatever chemical bonds the atom may happen to be participating in. In a living system, ionization causes toxicity and genetic damage; at low levels it increases cancer risk and at high levels causes radiation sickness or death.

    At beam intensities high enough for rapid imaging of travelers, x rays would significantly increase long-term cancer risk. Fetuses and infants are especially vulnerable to all ionizing radiation, including x rays.

    Sorry Bill (1.00 / 0) (#26)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 08:00:21 PM EST
    They can't. They consider that possibility worth the risk when compared to not catching terrorists and other idoits.

    Sorry Bill, it's a societal scarfice thing.


    They (none / 0) (#28)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 08:13:16 PM EST
    had to kill the passengers to save them.

    the world according to jim (none / 0) (#39)
    by Sailor on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 11:24:58 AM EST
    They consider that possibility worth the risk when compared to not catching terrorists and other idoits.
    this commenter always forgets the 'we the people' part of America.

    According to his logic the rest of should be able to     bannish folks who think like him to some secret hell hole prison because they are a greater threat to American values and society than any terrorist threat has been.


    And (none / 0) (#40)
    by aw on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 11:37:06 AM EST
    even if he knows "they" don't give a sh*t about him, he still loves them anyway.

    He doesn't know how lucky he is that most of us don't share his "logic."


    I've seen these. (none / 0) (#10)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 12:13:18 PM EST
    Quaid (played by Ahnold) crashed through the side of one to make his escape in the airport in the film Total Recall.

    scanners (none / 0) (#13)
    by diogenes on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:22:01 PM EST
    Hey-the people who don't like the new scanners don't have to go through them.  What's the problem here?

    Apparently Diogenes forgot ... (none / 0) (#19)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 04:35:29 PM EST
    ... to light his lamp:
    Hey-the people who don't like the new scanners don't have to go through them.  What's the problem here?
    We do have to go thru them. We do have to drive. We do have to walk down the street. we aren't even safe from police no-knock invasion in our own homes.

    And all of those instances have been held by the supremes to be perfectly legal and constitutional ... mainly because the supremes, and judges and lawyers, think it will never happen to them.


    Scanners a step to "Big Brother"... (none / 0) (#16)
    by Bill Arnett on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 01:58:49 PM EST
    ...If it doesn't bother you, okay, but the "problem" is the further encroachment of our rights to privacy in as expressed in the Fourth Amendment:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    Somehow, and I'm probably nit-picking here, but SOMEHOW it bothers me to see our rights disappearing at an ever faster pace; I guess I'm just some kind of unreasonable reactionary.

    Jimmy C (1.00 / 0) (#25)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 07:57:15 PM EST
    Bill - They've been searching people since the Carter Administration.

    first, they came for me........................ (none / 0) (#18)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 04:29:13 PM EST
    and diogenes thought that was ok. next,they came for diogenes..................

    Then you can be subjected to a patdown instead.

    ok, but only if it's a "hooter's girl" doing the patdown! :)

    Hooters girls.. (1.00 / 0) (#24)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 07:55:41 PM EST
    Somehow I don't think you could stand the strain, cp.

    Besides, didn't you hear that the ACLU has made them hire guys??


    If they can "see" (none / 0) (#21)
    by aw on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 06:21:01 PM EST
    that you're not a terrorist with x-rays, why do they need all that info they're planning on saving for 40 years?  I wonder if they're going to be saving these images, too, for comparison?

    Rapiscan (none / 0) (#22)
    by sweatpants on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 06:21:56 PM EST
    When I clicked on the link, I was shocked to see that it's name is Rapiscan. It is aptly named, if you pronounce it rape-i-scan.  It is visual rape.  It is extremely invasive, and as pointed out above, it is clearly a violation of the 4th amendment.  

    They claim that the level of xrays is not harmful, but any level of xrays can be harmful if you are exposed enough.  The xrays may scatter when they hit your skin, but they do still hit your skin before scattering.  Will we see an increase in skin cancers among frequent flyers?

    Never (1.00 / 0) (#23)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 07:53:48 PM EST
    Will we see an increase in skin cancers among frequent flyers?

    Uh..... never.

    The Fourth protects you from unresonable search.. I think that point has already been established. Society has a reasonable right to search you before you can get on an airplance.


    unreasonable search (none / 0) (#29)
    by sweatpants on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 11:44:48 PM EST
    Yes, the 4th amendment protects against unreasonable search.  I suppose the argument at this point is how to define "unreasonable."  Looking at people naked, without a warrant, is unreasonable. Forcing people to submit to being seen naked, without a warrant, is unreasonable.

    Radiation exposure numbers (none / 0) (#27)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 02, 2006 at 08:08:08 PM EST
    You have snipes where you are?... (none / 0) (#41)
    by Bill Arnett on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 11:40:05 AM EST
    ...They're extinct here in California - read somewhere they had been exposed to too much backscatter x-rays.

    Naval Aviation without his oxygen mask (none / 0) (#43)
    by Edger on Sun Dec 03, 2006 at 01:12:11 PM EST
    The head rolls forward, the eyes flutter and roll up in their sockets and slowly close, the jaw goes slack, the mouth falls open...

    ...and the flyer does a belly flop into the drink.

    Nothing new here. He only thought he could fly.

    Prototype testing (none / 0) (#45)
    by wexpat on Sat Feb 24, 2007 at 03:43:29 PM EST
    Sheesh.  This is just killing our Biz.  No terrorists... so we will invent and provoke by agressive invasion of privacy?

    We will see this next:

    Foxnews Flash:

    Phoenix Arizona-
    Foxnews has learned of an alarming development during prototype testing of a new TSA screening device called a "virtual strip search" by critics.

    Conspicuous foriegn material found in the viewing booth during a routine inspection has now been determined not to be a "Winterfreeze" McDonalds shake spill, as initially represented by a TSA spokesperson.  ACLU investigators have learned from FTIR (Fourrier Transform Infra Red) tests performed on the material at nearby ASU, that the deposits found on Backscatter X-ray image viewing screen are actually human semen, and have now been DNA traced to the TSA employee in viewing room.