Naked Body Scans No More: TSA Caves to Activism

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist January 20, 2013

Notch one up for activism and airline passengers everywhere who refused to be violated and doused with radiation by continuing to opt out of the army of naked body scanners installed across US airports.

Europe banned the devices last year citing safety concerns with radiation levels, but was this part of the recent decision by the TSA to at long last get rid of the devices for good?

Apparently not as the official TSA statement on the matter cited the inability of developers from OSI Systems to code “modesty software” designed to make passengers appear less naked when being scanned by an allotted deadline.  Congress had requested the company to make software modifications after the Electronic Privacy Information Center had formally objected to the devices.

Despite the TSA’s insistence otherwise, no doubt it was the growing opt out movement, constant criticism, and inability to convince a very vocal minority of the public about the devices’ safety that caused TSA to throw in the towel.

The willingness of some TSA agents to flat out lie about the devices also was causing a public relations backlash.  I myself was lied to by TSA the first time I flew through an airport with a naked body scanner so I can vouch for the underhanded techniques that were employed to somehow get the public to accept the combination of being viewed naked and getting doused with unhealthy levels of radiation at the same time.

Well, they only got to see me naked one time, as I wasn’t fooled again.  Everytime I flew after that, I opted out and was purposely made to wait on a number of occasions for my required pat down – once even to the point where I almost missed my plane even though I had arrived in plenty of time.

I sensed a change was in the air when I flew to California a couple months ago and the TSA agents were allowing people to go through the old fashioned metal detectors without a fuss.   I was relieved to avoid a pat down that entire trip.

Change was indeed on the way.  76 of the naked body scanners were quietly retired last year and the remaining 174 will be rapidly removed in the coming months.   The government may choose to “redeploy” the scanners for other purposes, however.

The TSA says that the replacement for the scanners will be the less violating millimeter wave scanners that use extremely high frequency radio waves and show only an outline of the person.

Are the millimeter wave scanners safer?  Cell phone conversations are transmitted by high frequency radio waves too, so it’s not looking too good at this point.  However, I plan to keep an open mind and am reading up on both sides of the issue to come to grips with existing data on these new devices.

I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.   As for now, I will keep opting out when I fly unless the old fashioned metal detectors are an option.

 

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

Picture Credit:   TSA

 

Comments (39)

  1. I flew a lot in 2011 but I was never made to go through a scanner or got a pat down. I was just really lucky and only had to go through metal detector. Maybe this was because I was solo with an infant a lot, I don’t know but I did decide ahead of time that the government would not have an image of my body in their database even if it meant I had to rent a car and drive home. Also, my elected congressman in Utah, Jason Chaffetz, did a lot of work on getting rid of the scanners, I think he did a great job. Even though I worked for an airline then I have since decided I may never fly again because I don’t trust the TSA. They have ruined flying. And the videos on youtube where they treat toddlers as criminals and pat them down and don’t let their parents talk to them or help them are heartbreaking and I don’t ever want my kids to face that.

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  3. This is a quote I got from another website.
    Contrary to reports last week that the TSA is eliminating its expensive fleet of x-ray body scanners from airports, the federal agency signed a contract months ago with a separate company to provide the very same machines.
    If they do get new scanners, I heard they could be just as bad with the type of high frequency radio waves they produce. Radio waves cause illness. Research it.
    http://www.electrosensitivesociety.com/history-of-the-illness/

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  4. I’m glad the scanners are gone. I was lied to in the Tampa Airport about the scanners once. I asked the agent if they were full body scanners and told him that if they were I’d prefer to get a pat down. He told me that they weren’t so I naively believed him and went through it. Later I found out they were and I was so annoyed. Good riddance. I hope this new thing is better.
    Lovelyn\’s last post: Jan 10, The Healthy Mouth World Summit

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  5. I have always opted out, probably a dozen occasions now … each time I’m polite and apologize for the trouble, thank her for taking the time, and a couple times expressed my concern to the TSA agent about her exposure. Without exception, every agent was herself apologetic and explained where she was going to touch and why. My husband goes through the scanner and is exasperated by my insistence on avoiding the machines. Some people don’t care.

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  6. Are the metal detectors safe? How about those x-ray machines – since they are so close to where people line to go through the metal detectors – how can we be safe while travelling?

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  7. When I flew out of Orlando back in October, I was completely surprised that they had stopped the body scanners and had us go through the old fashioned metal detectors!

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  8. I quit flying when they started bringing out the body scanners. Wonder how many deaths they caused by people driving. My guess is a lot more than have been killed by so-called terrorists.

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  9. Laura E Mayer via Facebook January 21, 2013 at 9:05 am

    I opted out too–even if it was the millimeter waves scan. The only downside? I learned what it felt like to be a criminal with the excessive pat-down.

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  10. I live in the UK, and the last time I went to the States was 5 years ago. I’m flying out there in a week, and I’ll be travelling on a domestic flight as well; the possibility of pat-downs and long wait times as retalitation for opting out of x-ray scanners really freaks me out! Thanks for bringing this up; maybe the airports I’m flying to won’t be using them anymore.

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  11. Alex Lewin via Facebook January 20, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    BTW the awkward phrase “millimeter wave” is just their way of avoiding saying “microwave”. YES THE US IS COOKING ITS CITIZENS (and others). Sorry for the caps…but it’s true.

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  12. Lyndsey Stark Stang via Facebook January 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Read an article that stated many TSA agents are coming down with cancer. One agent said to a friend, “It’s not true. I do this all day and I haven’t gotten cancer yet”. How does she know? Lol

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  13. My mom was just forced to endure a pat down last week because she refused to go through the scanner. She said that they lady kept glancing over at my brother who was standing nearby with his cell phone out, looking like he was recording it. :-)
    Amanda\’s last post: What are Kefir Grains

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  14. In December we had to fly for a family wedding. I told my husband that we needed to get there a little earlier because I wouldn’t be going through our airport’s cancer machine. When we got there I told the TSA agent checking id’s that I wanted to opt out. Her tone of voice made it clear that she was very annoyed and she informed me that it wasn’t even running. I thought it was because it was a morning flight…I’m glad to hear its being retired completely.

    On our way home, the small airport in SD had one of the new scanners. It picked up my metal zippers, so I had to have a partial pat down…my husband and sister in law had to have a complete pat down. If there’s such a high chance of needing a pat down anyway, I’d rather do that and avoid possible risks.

    My husband and I lived in Israel at the beginning of the second Intifada. I was very impressed with the airport agents at the Tel Aviv airport. There were no such things as body scanners back then, just really well trained agents. Their job was asking questions, searching random bags and paying close attention to behavior. We even watched them forcibly remove someone from the building. Our small airport has 10 people to do the job that 1-2 people did in Israel, but all they really do is run machines.

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    • Our nation is stupid for not allowing profiling! I once traveled with my family (husband and four children .. youngest with Down syndrome) .. they picked us out of the line .. youngest is non verbal and would not ‘follow’ their directions. I suggested they have me go through the line first so I could instruct him to come through .. then got my bag wiped down for explosives .. that was before 9/11. I always opt out of the scatter x-ray.

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      • oh gosh mrs. mac, you have reminded me of our time that was after 9/11. i too have a little boy w/DS and autism. i had him in a stroller, i had a backpack w/his stuff, i had his cooler for his food and a laptap in the backpack..so i was loaded. of all the folks taken from the line (remember they would pick and choose?), and w/o any help, i had to unload my son out of the stoller, and of course take out the laptop, give all to the conveyor belt..ok so that’s norm…but then i had to push my son thru the detector, take off my son’s shoes, leave him in the chair, remove my shoes and go thru the detector…all the while trying to keep my son in his seat from a distance, etc. mine is also nonverbal and doesn’t understand. good grief i remember that day. yep me and myy son reallllyyyy looked like terrorists…sheesh.

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    • It’s not random searches in Israel. They only search Arabs even families with small children and people traveling alone. They don’t search the Jews at all. It’s extremely violating- oftentimes resulting in a pat down on the mild end or a strip search at the other end of the spectrum. They also go through each and every single item in your luggage after you carefully packed it. Including underwear and personal items, sometimes breaking things. Things they are unsure pf they take in the back and scan individually. In our case ot included makeup, a roller hair brush that they broke apart and an antique child’s camel pull toy that was my husband’s when he was small. You could hear them play with it in the back. Then when they’re done and your luggage that took you 2 hours to pack so breakables would be protected, is all torn apart they give you five minutes to put it back together before your flight leaves. Oh and the red flags for them checking if you’re not Arab are they ask you where you traveled and if you tell them any Christian sites they will check you. Practically all of the Christian sites are in Arab areas within Israel or like Bethlehem in the West Bank. I’m catholic and so is my husband an Israeli Arab catholic. They make up 3 percent of the pop.

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  15. Elizabeth Mason Moses via Facebook January 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    We haven’t flown in 3 years, partly because I’m afraid we’ll get stuck at some far away airport that tries to require the scan!

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  16. I just flew this past week and was asked to go through an unretired body scanner. Usually when I am with my daughter they let us go through the old fashioned machines….and make my husband use the scanner. I had to endure a pat down in public….watching while a different TSA agent opened an unopen box of girl scout cookies. I said ‘he just opened the box of girl scout cookies!’. The agent patting me down looked up and said ‘they were already open’. I wasn’t about to argue with her while she was patting me down, so I let it drop. However, my husband said they took the cookies and sent them through the x ray machine again. ???????

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    • Do you ever have problems opting out?

      I’m amazed at how simple it was since Sarah first posted on it and then I knew better than to go through those cancer machines again. I tell them I want to opt out and they yell over a casual, “We’ve got a female opt out!”, I wait just a few seconds and get a respectful pat down. I always have a nice chat with the female security person and then I’m on my way.

      Kelly

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      • I’ve noticed a shift because initially I got flack from TSA agents who tried to convince me to go through the scanners, but in the last year they must have been told not to do this. Lately it has been efficient and professional. There was only one time recently when they didn’t have enough female agents so I had to wait a few minutes. I took that as a good sign that more people were opting out, although it could have been a tactic to discourage people from opting out.

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