X-Ray Body Scanner Hubbub: The Naked Truth

This week's uproar over the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) use of full-body scanners in U.S. airports shows no signs of easing, as privacy advocates, airline pilots, and grass-roots groups are up in arms over new security-screening measures that opponents find far too intrusive.

The TSA began using advanced imaging technology scanners in 2007, and it currently has 385 of the units at 68 airports. In March 2010, Boston Logan International was one of the first U.S. airports to receive new full-body scanners, which help TSA agents detect concealed weapons and explosives. The TSA insists the X-ray units are safe for all individuals being screened, including children.

The security scanners project an ionizing X-ray beam over the body's surface, which creates an image of the passenger--sans clothes--that's viewed by a remote TSA officer. The technology allows security workers to look under a person's clothing without resorting to a hands-on, pat-down inspection. The process takes seconds versus 2 to 4 minutes for a pat-down. One of the scanner methodologies used--millimeter wave technology--blurs facial features to protect the passenger's privacy.

Flyers who refuse a scan can opt for a pat-down instead. John Tyner, a California software engineer, became an instant Web celebrity this week when he declined both a body scan and the alternative--a groin check-and then used his iPhone's video camera to record the event.

Tyner famously told security agents: "If you touch my junk, I'm going to have you arrested." (He evaded the junk-groping but wasn't allowed to fly.)

Junk Shots Junked-or Not?

The TSA says each image captured by its scanners "cannot be stored, transmitted or printed, and is deleted immediately once viewed."

Gizmodo, however, has posted 100 low-resolution images from a Florida Federal courthouse where U.S. Marshals reportedly (and "perhaps illegally") saved 35,000 full-body images from their scanner. The Gizmodo shots weren't from the TSA, but their existence raises privacy issues pertaining to government-operated body scanners.

Image credit: Gizmodo.com

The TSA responded to Gizmodo's report by reiterating its security policies, telling CBS News that naked shots from its full-body scanners are deleted as soon as they're examined and cleared by a security officer.

Meanwhile, several grass-roots organizations are protesting the TSA's heightened security measures. One such group at www.optoutday.com is calling for National Opt Out Day on Wednesday November 24, the insanely busy travel day before Thanksgiving. Its plea: On the 24th, just say no to TSA body scans:

"It's the day ordinary citizens stand up for their rights, stand up for liberty, and protest the federal government's desire to virtually strip us naked or submit to an "enhanced pat down" that touches people's breasts and genitals in an aggressive manner," the site reads.

The TSA says the uproar over body scanning doesn't reflect the views of most Americans. The agency's website links to a CBS News poll showing that 4 of 5 U.S. residents support the use of advanced imaging technology at airports.

Contact Jeff Bertolucci via Twitter (@jbertolucci ) or at jbertolucci.blogspot.com .

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