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TSA Body Scanners

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Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5:49 PM

CNN is reporting that TSA has announced the removal of all Rapiscan X-ray backscatter airport machines, to be accomplished no later than June 2013.  The backscatter machines (the big boxy ones like the one in this post) were thought to be unsafe because they used X-rays (though TSA said otherwise).  But their demise rests on a different ground — privacy.

The second sort of machine that TSA uses (the millimeter wave scanners — the open-glass circular ones) not only use radio waves (thought to be safer) but can accommodate privacy-protective software that substitutes a generic human outline for the figure of the individual undergoing scanning.  Rapiscan has now announced that it cannot duplicate that software technology in its machines.

This will make TSA’s justification of its machinery under the Administrative Procedures Act much easier to achieve.  The rule making that will go forward will now have the safest, most privacy-protective alternative available.  I can’t imagine a court striking it down.

Bottom line:  The boxes may come back if Rapiscan can fix the software problem, but for now expect to see all 200+ of them moved to mothballs.  The millimeter wave machines, however, look like they are here to stay.

A programming note:  For those who hang on my every word (both of you!) I’ll be off on vacation beginning tomorrow.  My blogging resumes in February.