Airport X-Ray Scanners

Full body x-ray scanners are being installed and tested this fall at airports across the US, as well as London and Australia, raise privacy issues. A sample image is at right. Some privacy advocates say the technology amounts to a virtual strip search and object to the technology.

US airports installing the technology include:

Chicago O’Hare
Las Vegas
Los Angeles
New York Kennedy
New York LaGuardia
San Francisco
San Juan
Washington Reagan

TSA’s web site 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.

The security agency says the machines will be effective in helping detect plastic or liquid explosives and other non-metallic weapons that can be missed by standard metal detectors.

The TSA indicates the X-ray scanning systems will be set up so that the image can be viewed only by a security officer in a remote location. Other passengers, and even the agent at the checkpoint, will not have access to the picture. TSA states that the agency will delete the raw images, but there is no law or regulation that prevents the agency from saving the original, detailed images.

Critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), say the machine constitutes an invasion of privacy as it can display graphic images of nude bodies and its use could pave the way to widespread abuse of the images taken.

In addition, enthusiasts for this technology are already talking about extending its use to other venues where screening might be desirable – subways, buses, federal/state buildings, even colleges and schools. The spread of this technology raises many additional concerns.

Personally, I dislike the technology and object to the invasion of my privacy. I feel that we’ve badly warped the “innocent until proven guilty” premise of our investigative and legal system and we treat everyone, equally, as criminals and terrorists.

I fly frequently, but I do not want to volunteer for an x-ray scan any more than I want my underwires groped or a latex-snapping strip search.

If we allow our fear to turn our airports and cities and into an armed police zone without privacy or freedom, then the terrorists have won and Big Brother is here.

14 Responses to “Airport X-Ray Scanners”

  1. Vince Says:

    And this technology will be abused, just as the “necessary” phone tapping of calls to and from overseas have been. Just as access to IRS records have been. Because there’s no real oversight, and no accountability. Just a continued erosion of our rights in the name of “security.”

    In my opinion, to a great extent the terrorist have already won, causing us to spend and waste billions of dollars in technology that often doesn’t work while critical infrastructure is neglected, eroding freedoms that so many have died to protect, and turning us into a nation afraid to turn out the lights because a monster might be under our beds.

    Terrorism exists, and we need to be able to respond to it and prevent it where possible, but we have a collapsing economy, crumbling infrastructure, failing school system, and an anti-terrorism program that reminds me of the secret police systems of Nazi Germany and the communist country of your choice with it’s warrantless spying and ability to incarcerate people without specifying charges, without access to lawyers, family or a court, and the prospect of torture.

    The terrorists no longer need to actually attack us, just threaten us occasionally. We’ll do all the damage ourselves.

    I love my country, but I fear and despise our government. And truthfully, I don’t believe this election, regardless of who wins, will significantly change anything, because I don’t hear a desire to make most of the changes we need from either presidential candidate or any of the congressional or senate candidates in my state.

  2. Janiece Says:

    Jeri, you make some really good points here.

    But you used the phrase “the terrorists have won.” Isn’t there some sort of corollary to Godwin’s Law that the use of that rhetorical phrase means you automatically lose the argument?


  3. Bill Says:

    Maybe DeNardo (see previous post) isn’t so wrong…

  4. John the Scientist Says:

    The security agency says the machines will be effective in helping detect plastic or liquid explosives and other non-metallic weapons that can be missed by standard metal detectors.

    OK, does anyone else see the disconnect of the above statement with:

    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.

    Liquid explosives won’t make you fail the initial screening – only carrying something metal will – unless you are carrying so much liquid it makes a noticeable bulge, in which case the new X-rays are superfluous. The TSA can’t be this stupid, can they? Can they?

  5. Random Michelle Says:

    John, you didn’t really need to ask that question did you?

    I have a hard time imagining any woman who doesn’t think this is an absolutely horrible idea.

    I woke up at 4AM for my last flight, we had an hour drive to the airport, and then I ate a bagel and drank lots of liquids.

    The idea of someone seeing me naked at that point is horrifying.

    And will this substitute for cavity searches?

    I can see this as being nice for people who have metal surgically implanted in their bodies (artificial joints etc) but otherwise, not so much.

  6. Holy Says:

    I think I would be tempted to plant a giant metallic middle finger imprint on my belly just to say screw you. I should really get on inventing something that those machines pick up. Just to stick it to the system which has really stooped too low now.

  7. Bill Says:

    Now anybody can see you naked – no need to be a perverse, waste-of-time government agency! Look at this –

  8. MWT Says:

    I have to wonder what the people who are “randomly selected” have to say about it. Is it better or worse than being searched every single time they fly?

  9. Nathan Says:


    I’m Jewish. Of Eastern European extraction. Somewhere in our history, we must have had some Mediterranean ancestors because I have some dark-assed-skin. And I don’t shave every day. And I should.

    I have been “randomly selected” for additional security every time I’ve flown for the past 7 years. I’ve also always…ALWAYS…found that little tag in my bag informing me that it had been searched.

  10. Jeri Says:

    Bill, thanks. I’m so thankful to have a tool like that at my disposal! :D

    Michelle, Janiece, I completely agree with you.

    Vince, I think our government is a pendulum, and it’s swung pretty far to the right at this point – I’m hoping it’s going to reverse course pretty soon.

    MWT – good observation – and Nathan, I agree, that would suck. Totally. As a fishbelly-white caucasian female who is conspicuously out of shape, I’m not much of a profiling target for this particular agenda, but I do empathize.

  11. Full Body Xray Says:

    Its awful to see that the governments are trying to bypass our human rights to beat the terrorists.

    Th Xray is a great idea in theory but in pactise it goes against everyones personal rights…who would want their body to be seen by everyone when they are an upstanding citizen?

    Whos to say that the xrays taken dont end up on an Internet website where the world can see?

  12. MWT Says:

    Nathan – so is the current treatment preferable to being X-rayed? Or would you rather be x-rayed?

  13. Jim Wright Says:

    I will bet you even money that every big busted, tall blond girl gets tapped for extra screening.

    I predict that within a year, there will be a scandal where TSA agents are caught with disks of xray porn

  14. Donna Says:

    Personally, I think it’s crappy enough that I already have an artificial joint at my age and have at least 3 more to look forward too. I don’t think that while I’m flying I should have to be separated from my husband and kids (one is only 11 one 18) and be treated like a criminal. If it was just a separate wave of a wand I wouldn’t mind, but pat downs and xrays, and possible missed flights just seems like a violation of the persons with disabilities and privacy laws. Traveling is hard enough.