Chalk this up as a small victory in the war on common sense. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) confirmed today that it will remove some airport body scanners that produce a naked image of travelers by June.
These are the large blue backscatter X-ray machines from Rapiscan that we have already seen disappearing of late (on the purported grounds that they slow the screening process down too much). There will still be full body scanners; millimeter wave devices that produce cartoonish-like images rather than the more explicit images produced by Rapiscan backscatter devices. Millimeter wave devices from other companies will also remain.
Of course the TSA is saying this is what they had been planning to do all along–
“This was not necessarily in response to complaints. We are always looking to upgrade our technology, and in this case, we were also congressionally mandated to,” said a TSA official who was authorized to speak to the media but not to be identified.
Each backscatter machine costs around $250,000 and as it turns out, the taxpayer will not necessarily be on the hook for supplying brand new screening machines at U.S. airports–
The TSA official said Rapiscan will absorb the cost of removing the 174 machines from airports across the country and 76 more that are warehoused in Texas, along with the cost of replacement machines made by another manufacturer.
The replacement machines, which use millimeter-wave technology, cost about $180,000 apiece. That could run Rapiscan more than $30 million, but the TSA official said it‘s not known whether each machine will be replaced.
I’m glad to see that some lawyer at DHS was crafty enough to get Rapiscan to agree to a contractual provision like this, because you can bet the company is not just being charitable…
But it’s not like the machines will just be mothballed. Instead, they’ll be put to use in other government agencies. So in the end, we just get more full body scanners, even though we’ll only see the less invasive machines at airports after June.
I do consider this news a victory. A small victory. So-called “nude-o-scopes” are not going away. There will still be L3 devices at every major airport and you’ll still have to assume the humiliating position (unless, like me, your tendinitis in the right arm flames up every time you enter a security checkpoint…), but as I stated in July 2011, the TSA has diffused my main privacy concern as a result of Congressionally-mandated software modifications to mask nude images of travelers.
Yet this modicum of progress demonstrates that Congress can work together, where in this case they decided–quite rationally–that the privacy concerns of performing a virtual strip search on Americans without probable cause outweighed the alleged security and safety benefits of these unfettered devices.
And it seems that a vocal minority was responsible for this–after all, a super-majority of Americans are willing to go along with anything in the name of security. This does not mean we should stop and pat ourselves on the back. I predict the TSA will decree–sometime in the next year–that travelers can no longer opt-out of full body scans, since “all” privacy and health concerns have now been addressed.
I’ll be ready for that fight if it happens. But on this Friday, though small, we can celebrate a victory of common sense over mindless theatrics.