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TSA Body Scanners To Show Less Revealing Images 202

tgtanman writes "The Washington Post reports that the TSA will begin installing new software on millimeter wave body scanners at 41 airports that will replace the controversial body images with generic images of the body. While the change is currently limited to millimeter wave scanners, similar upgrades for backscatter scanners is being developed, according to the TSA. The ACLU has applauded the changes but continues to note other concerns with the scanners."
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TSA Body Scanners To Show Less Revealing Images

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  • Now people can applaud them for doing the good thing and changing the controversial scanners to better ones. I don't feel so bad anymore. Good job!

    wait, didn't I still lose privacy somewhere in the process?
    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:04AM (#36831790) Homepage Journal

      Worse, these aren't any less invasive of your privacy. They're still, by definition, still taking the image. The computer is just throwing away some of the data. Translation: it is just software that can change at any time, even to the point of sending a complete copy of the unprocessed image data to a porn site in Russia.

      Just to put on my cynic hat, the government had better hope that they rounded up all those Anonymous hackers the other day. Otherwise, I'd give it a year, tops, before somebody manages to pull off "Girls Gone Wild, Airport Security Style". Really, when you have something so utterly ripe for abuse, it's not a question of if, but when.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        DAE remember that before these scanners were first installed the TSA, in combination with the Department of Homeland Security, certified that there was software in place which blurred the naughty bits and prevented any sort of saving, printing, etc, of the images... and that it all turned out to be a COMPLETE AND INTENTIONAL LIE?

        DAE ever go look at the TENS OF THOUSANDS of high quality images that have been posted on the internet by TSA agents who saved the images to a personal thumb drive since there is no

    • by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:16AM (#36831836)


      If the only reason you weren't going through the machines as it was is because you didn't want someone keeping an archive of your naughty bits, then you were standing up for the wrong reason. Treat it as any other aspect of your privacy. Exercise it. I won't go through the machines for the same reason I don't just invite an officer into my house or give an officer a reason to snoop around my car. Rights are meaningless if you don't exercise them.

  • Does it matter? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boogaroo ( 604901 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:43PM (#36831422) Homepage

    Does it matter if it's less revealing if the radiation is just as dangerous?
    Does it matter if it's ineffective now and continues to be ineffective?

    I think we could better spend the money on monitoring the TSA screeners who keep stealing our stuff.

    • by zget ( 2395308 )
      I've traveled a lot in asia, including Cambodia (one of the poorest countries in the world) and China. Not once they have stolen anything from my backs. It's kind of funny that it happens in the US.
      • My guess is that in Cambodia, people who work at the airport are effing GLAD they have such a great job and wouldn't dream about doing anything that could even possibly endanger this position.

        In the US, otoh...

      • After being in Nepal, that's what I think:

        • Smaller airports --> bigger accountability. In some cases the bags were always in public sight while they were checked / sent to the plane.
        • Even when the baggage was not in sight, the traffic was so little that I imagine that there could be no more than two - three people looking baggage. It makes workers a lot harder to say "But I did not see nothing" if someone complains.
        • I do not know if it was because we were obviously foreigners, but I did not feel that the
        • by dargaud ( 518470 )

          In Nepal [...] I did not feel that the checks were very thorough

          Well, last time I was there, we had ONE TON of extra luggage. After slipping a couple bills under the counter, we didn't have to pay the outrageous extra fare (thousands of dollars, if not more) as they miraculously all missed the scale. I was actually worried that the airplane might not lift off...

    • Re:Does it matter? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ModernGeek ( 601932 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:55PM (#36831506)
      I never understood how they justified this. X-Rays are considered high risk. They keep quoting radiation dosages, but it doesn't seem to factor the fact that this is ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation that damages DNA. Damaged DNA that causes cancer cells. Why is this allowed?
      • These x-ray scanners give you a much smaller ionizing radiation dose than you'll get from the flight itself []. When you're flying at altitude, there's less air to absorb ionizing cosmic radiation, so you end up encountering and absorbing more of it. Airline crews on certain routes actually get a higher annual dose of radiation than nuclear plant workers.

        While I agree that the scanners are an abomination, the radiation from them is (assuming the machine is working properly) a tiny fraction of the increase
        • Re:Does it matter? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @02:01AM (#36831956)
          It may be a very small amount of radiation or they may be calculating it wrong or they may be lying.

          In any case, it is radiation and can cause cancer. There is no safe amount of radiation. Any amount of radiation can cause cancer. The more radiation, the greater your chance of cancer. I choose not to expose myself to this extra radiation.

          • Re:Does it matter? (Score:4, Insightful)

            by LordLimecat ( 1103839 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @08:58AM (#36833582)

            In any case, it is radiation and can cause cancer.

            No, its microwave radiation [] (not even that!), and noone has ever shown a conclusive or even likely link to show that it causes cancer. From the wiki article on it...

            The terahertz region is between the radio frequency region and the optical region generally associated with limits are based on extrapolation.... It is expected that effects on tissues are thermal in nature and, therefore, predictable by conventional thermal models.

            In otherwords, there really isnt any credible "it causes cancer" hypothesis out there based on where it lies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

            Please stop spouting nonsense, every time one of these TSA Millimeter wave discussions comes up someone inevitably spouts nonsense about cancer.

        • These x-ray scanners give you a much smaller ionizing radiation dose than you'll get from the flight itself

          True but any radiation exposure increases the risk of cancer. The risk is acceptable if there is a corresponding benefit to be gained from taking it. However for security screening X-raying is not needed. Tera-hertz imaging can produce the same quality of images with no known risks. There are some people concerned about it but, if there is a harmful effect, it is so small that it has not yet been detected. This is before you even start asking about effective this type of screening really is at stopping ter

          • That is not necessarily true, plenty of radiation workers live long healthy lives, and there is a lot of controversy surrounding the linear no-threshold model wherein all radiation exposure is dangerous.


            Back to the point, the real problem with the scanners isn't the pictures or the "radiation", it's the blatent invasion of privacy and expenditure of tax dollars on security theatre.
            • Back to the point, the real problem with the scanners isn't the pictures or the "radiation", it's the blatent invasion of privacy and expenditure of tax dollars on security theatre.

              I think there are multiple problems, and radiation exposure may well be one. While the scanners expose individuals to a relatively low overall radiation dose, the delivery concentrates this dose in the top few millimeters of the skin. We really don't know what effect this may have, because the per-tissue-volume dose is significantly higher than, for example, medical diagnostic x-rays. It's also not clear that the scanners deliver that dose uniformly, there may be even hotter spots. Since the TSA won't a

          • True but any radiation exposure increases the risk of cancer.

            False. There is no scientist Ive ever heard of who would ever claim that infrared or optical radiation causes cancer, and these particular scanners (which ARENT x-ray scanners) are just outside the infrared spectrum (

        • These ARENT x-ray scanners, and do not dose you with ionizing radiation. So while most of the stuff in your post is accurate, it is irrelevant because so far as anyone is aware these scanners (Millimeter Wave) do not cause any health effects whatsoever; theyre basically zapping you with microwaves which only have thermal effects so far as anyone has shown.

        • These x-ray scanners give you a much smaller ionizing radiation dose than you'll get from the flight itself [].

          This is true. However, the harder radiation you get from high-altitude travel is full-body radiation -- it passes through your entire body. The radiation from the TSA scanners are concentrated on the skin. [] This negates any chance of deep tissue cancers, but raises the chance of skin cancer.

          Personally, I won't get in one of those machines. I like a good pat-down or two on my vacations, anyway.

      • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @02:19AM (#36831994)

        It is for the millimeter wave ones. Those ones are not ionizing radiation (as the wavelength indicates, it is below visible light). Remember there are two different kinds of body scanners out there.

        • What no one has ever been able to explain to me is, if there are two models, one that is completely safe and one that _might_ be safe but still uses ionizing radiation, why in the hell are there any of the latter operating???

          • Either unit is equally effective in the Security Kabuki. Safety is not a consideration, because the worst effects will manifest after the responsible politicians are retired to a life of taxpayer and corporate funded luxury.
          • by blueg3 ( 192743 )

            It's not that the X-ray backscatter machines "might" be safe. Unless they're lying about the dosage (which would be stupid), the risk to the traveler from the radiation is trivial. There's as much cancer risk from the formaldehyde in the air from furniture and from countless other sources, all of which are small compared to the radiation received from living near rocks and underneath the sun.

      • To everyone in this thread, these arent X-ray scanners, theyre millimeter wave scanners, which are fundamentally different than the backscatter scanners in that they DONT INVOLVE XRAYS.

        For the TLDR crowd out there, once again, NO XRAYS ARE INVOLVED HERE.

        Good gracious are people not even reading the summary?

        The Washington Post reports that the TSA will begin installing new software on millimeter wave body scanners at 41 airports that will....

      • "X-Rays are considered high risk."

        You must be very young. Us old farts got their shoe size checked with x-rays until the 70ies. []

    • by symbolset ( 646467 ) * on Thursday July 21, 2011 @12:21AM (#36831638) Journal
      This was a compassionate move, to lessen the burden of watching as vast hordes of portly American travellers waddle naked through their magic gate.
    • Re:Does it matter? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer&earthlink,net> on Thursday July 21, 2011 @12:23AM (#36831644)

      I agree. These scanners will find nothing that a metal detector and those bomb sniffers don't already find. Sure, I suppose someone might be able to sneak one of those ceramic or high density plastic blades on board the plane that these back scatter scanners might find but that problem has already been addressed. Tactics like a bolted door to the pilots and a cabin filled with people (crew and passengers) that know that someone that wields such a weapon can kill everyone on board. These people will react with lethal force using their own fists, feet, and teeth if they must to take that person down.

      Bomb sniffers and metal detectors are enough on the ground. Bolted doors and a "to the death" attitude in the air can handle what gets through the detectors. Pat downs should be reserved only for people that are placed under arrest for failure to comply with the safety rules. Anyone that has been patted down is automatically not going to fly, with rare exceptions.

      Those bomb sniffers aren't even that great since they are often too sensitive and will pick up a variety of cosmetics, medicines, and just stuff people pick up from the environment and flag it as explosive. Common sense needs to prevail when screening for explosives. The sniffers are great in picking up potentially explosive compounds but really bad at finding an actual bomb. Turning people away only because the sniffer picked up something is stupid because the false positive rate is so high, and if the screeners truly felt the person did have a bomb then that person should not be allowed to walk free, that person needs to be arrested, investigated, and charged with attempted murder or something.

      When it comes to the TSA screeners stealing there are two separate issues here. One is the unconstitutional search by an agent of the federal government without warrant or probable cause. No one can tell me that attempting to take a flight in an airplane is probable cause to a government search for explosives or weapons. Let the airline and/or airport staff take over control of the security. I recall that history shows that they are more effective at securing the airport anyway. Might have something to do with the fact that it is their own planes that are being protected, no airline wants to lose an airplane or the passengers within it.

      The second issue with items disappearing in the handling of luggage is that the TSA is allowed to search bags in private where no one can see them steal stuff. There is also the plausible deniability on both the part of the TSA and the airline, both groups can point fingers at the other on who stole what. If it is only the airline that handles the luggage then they are solely responsible for any loss along the way. No luggage should be opened without the owner present, excepting some very rare instances. The policy of routinely cutting locks needs to go.

      I have flown only once since this TSA nonsense began and that is only because I had a deal on some tickets. After the crap I went through to get on a plane I'm not sure I'd fly if the ticket was free.

      • These people will react with lethal force using their own fists, feet, and teeth if they must to take that person down.

        I suspect even now, a lot of those people will assume and hope someone else will do the take down.

      • One is the unconstitutional search by an agent of the federal government without warrant or probable cause. No one can tell me that attempting to take a flight in an airplane is probable cause to a government search for explosives or weapons.

        Unfortunately, it's not an unconstitutional search. If government agents have your permission to search you and your stuff then they don't need a warrant or probable cause, and the fact is that when you fly you're voluntarily submitting to that search. Of course, if you don't submit you can't fly, but the courts are of the opinion that while you have a right to travel you don't have a right to travel via a particular mode of transportation. Unless we can get the courts to decide that flying is a right wh

    • Just did a trip from Germany to Hawaii (via L.A.). Stuff was stolen from my suitcase. Interesting thing is that it was nothing of (monetary) value, it was a sealed, single-use Embolex injector (to help prevent DVT on the return flight). This was in checked luggage, prescribed by my doctor, no security threat at all. If I had tried to bring it in carry-on, I know they would have hassled me, so I put it in my checked luggage so that wouldn't happen and they took it anyway.

      My business partner was on the sa

  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:43PM (#36831426)

    While it's slightly less of an invasion, it doesn't change the invasive nature of these scans, nor does it address the possible health concerns. It's still an invasive search of your person without probable cause, and they're still ineffective at detecting even known types of dangerous items. Ineffective, invasive, (violating the conditions for a legal administrative airport security search) and without probable cause, that means they're still prohibited by the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution.

  • USA USA USA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:45PM (#36831436)
    Get fucking rid of them. And the TSA. But now that those assholes unionized, they'll never go away I'm sure. Land of the slave, home of the serf.
  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Baloroth ( 2370816 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:48PM (#36831450)

    If it was possible to do this in software to begin with, and they knew the images were "controversial" to begin with, why the hell didn't they just do this from the very beginning? My understanding of the system was that it was the fact that the images revealed everything, so to speak, that they were effective. So either they need to be revealing (which they clearly don't), or they've just been lying the whole time.

    Which brings me to my second question. Who is being paid to develop this software? Is this literally a case where they could have done something in the beginning, but didn't so that they could charge extra later, and then look like good guys because they are "protecting our rights"? Or am I missing something here? Because it looks very much to me like this move shows that they were pressing as hard as they could to see how far they could go "to stop terrorists", then, when people object, stepping back the tiniest inch (and BTW, anyone who doesn't go through these still has to be frisked) and trying to look like good guys.

    Seriously, this absolutely reeks of deception and probably downright lying. Of course, now people will back off and the TSA can continue with their security theater. The ACLU doesn't need to applaud this decision: they need to launch a class action lawsuit and corruption investigation to shut down the TSA.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by evil_aaronm ( 671521 )

      I forget the term for this, but I think it's along the lines of, "They set the bar at this height, we resist a bit, and they lower the bar a little, and we relent, now that the bar is lower, but we've still lost because the bar exists in the first place."

    • If it was possible to do this in software to begin with, and they knew the images were "controversial" to begin with, why the hell didn't they just do this from the very beginning?

      Because it's all about behavioral conditioning, not safety.

    • They were not real useful without the software because the idiots operating them didn't know what to look for. A magnetometer is right on par with what a no-training TSA 'tard can deal with: Greed = good, red = bad. It tells them when there's a problem. The mmW scanners didn't do that. They produced an image you had to analyze, which is something they were bad at. At Denver they were sending people through, but then taking them for a pat down because the moron running the thing kept saying he couldn't figur

  • by Xacid ( 560407 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:49PM (#36831456) Journal
    It's still the SAME thing. They're still regularly blasting folks with unnecessary radiation. Still misappropriating priorities and funds.

    Let's be real - how many planes are going to be coming down with knives and similar now that The Door (tm) is in place? Perhaps I'm grossly misinformed - if so, by all means educate me. But I'd rather see more investments being made in explosive detection [].

    Heck, there was a story recently about the TSA busting a guy with C4 [] by using an explosive detection device.
    • Heck, there was a story recently about the TSA busting a guy with C4 [] by using an explosive detection device.

      Funnily enough, that story is about the TSA congratulating itself for detecting a small amount of detonatorless explosive (1/2 ounce of C4 in a tobacco tin), in checked luggage. - ie. a non-threat to anyone on the plane.

      The really sad thing is that the luggage would have been searched (and the C4 found) not because the explosive itself was detected, but because trace amounts of probably unrelated residue on the outside of the bag were detected. I suspect that 99% of 'trace' detections lead to searches that

      • by Xacid ( 560407 )
        Yeah - one of the commentors on the blog figured it was just some guy who snagged some and wanted to blow up a piece of his own backyard or something. Hey, it's plausible; however, that certainly falls in the category of "shit-that-you-just-don't-bring-on-a-fucking-plane". Alternatively it could have been a test run from a hostile group. There are quite a few possibilities of what the intent could have been but regardless I'm glad they actually caught it. Why? Because maybe they'll see more usefulness to
    • No, it's worse. Because they are still misappropriating funds and blasting radiation, and in addition they are wasting funds to build these computer recognition algorithms. More wasted money.
  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Wednesday July 20, 2011 @11:59PM (#36831530) Homepage Journal
    Let's be perfectly clear on this, the purpose of these body scanners was NEVER to increase security, it was a gigantic kickback to former homeland security chief Michael Chertoff who received very well documented "consulting" positions with the company that makes those scanners. They are no more secure than competing, less invasive scanners, but the manufacturers of those scanners obviously didn't bribe the right officials.
  • Instead of removing the problem, lets spend time (and money?) to add a 'feature' to lessen the problem instead of just shoving those stupid devices off a cliff.

    • It did not even lessen the problem. The scanners still take the same image as before, it just gets processed and "masked" before being displayed to the operator. It's the usual "I can't see it so it ain't there" fix.

  • They should let me run airport security, well have x-rays and bomb sniffing for bags, metal detectors, and bomb sniffing dogs for people. If you're allergic to dogs then, you can go through a bomb sniffing machine. ta da airport secure! No I won't search your laptop/iphone for porn, no I won't cavity search you for drugs. I'm not worried about you breaking the law I'm worried about keeping people safe. So long as you're not carrying any weapons you're fine.
    • Allergies shouldn't really come into play. Most people aren't deathly allergic to dogs such that a quick dog-sniff would cause them life threatening illness. My wife gets some bad reactions to dogs and cats. She would have trouble breathing at my parents' house thanks to their dog. However, a casual "meet a dog on the street corner" (equivalent to "dog sniffs you at TSA checkpoint then you go on your way") doesn't cause any trouble. Even if it did, she can prepare by taking allergy meds ahead of time t

    • Just wait until some idiot terrorist sticks explosives up his backside to avoid the body scanner - then we'll all be getting free enemas too!
  • It's the same image, they just draw a smiley face on it.
  • by hamburgler007 ( 1420537 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:14AM (#36831828)
    It's sad how far down the shitter we are, namely past the point of no return. If the supreme court ruled against these invasive searches, it would stop, but scotus almost always sides with the federal government. If travelers protested by not travelling by air it would stop, but that certainly isn't going to happen. All the budget problems won't stop it, the government would sooner cut education than "defense." It's not realistic to see a genuine concerted effort by the majority of the public to stop this. Sure there are stories that infuriate the populace from time to time, but generally speaking those stories are quickly forgotten, with the occasional token legislation to treat a symptom of the disease, but not the disease itself. Say what you will about the tea party (I find most of their ideals reprehensible), but they are the only party for a long time who have motivated private citizens to become politically active. While I may not agree with the legislation they try to push through, I have a great deal of respect for them, in that they actively get involved with flaws they perceive in the government rather than grumble about standing in line to get scanned or the latest TSA faux pas.
  • TSA, a risk factor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Roachie ( 2180772 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @01:17AM (#36831840)

    I heard that Al Qaeda was going to use rogue TSA agents to smuggle explosives into the secure areas of the airports.

    The only way to be sure is to perform a cavity check on each and every TSA agent when they arrive for work, every day they show up.

    Spread the word about this risk.

    • This is why the TSA is a joke. The authorities try to paint TSA agents as if they are all highly trained FBI agents or something, but they are low skill rent-a-cops with little educational requirement.

      Drug runners subvert airport personnel and police all the time (and most contraband in prisons is smuggled in by the guards). Are we expected to believe that such a tactic is too dishonourable for terrorists or something? And the best bit is that the terrorists can just pretend to be drug runners and not even

  • by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @02:27AM (#36832030) Journal

    ... but we take care to not go all the way in!

  • But are we still at security theater or are we now patting and scanning everyone? Last I heard is that kids don't get scanned (ok, I can see why they shouldn't be patted...). And while I understand the argument, the whole thing is rendered pointless if that's the practice: If you don't test everyone, you can just as well not test anyone. Security is the security of the weakest link, and if I can stick my bomb to little Ali to get it on board, I'll do just that if I'm enough of a lunatic to accept blowing my

  • by surveyork ( 1505897 ) on Thursday July 21, 2011 @06:19AM (#36832846) Journal
    Pedobear and other lecherous friends are sad. No more HD porn, only low-res soft porn now. Damn rights activists!

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI