DHS Use of Body Scanners

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In April 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other civil rights organizations petitioned Department of Homeland Security to stop using Full Body Scanners in airports because of the great threat they present to privacy rights. [1] Among the concerns raised include the fact that "FBS devices can capture, store, and transfer detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals’ naked bodies." [2] The petition also refutes the argument that TSA presents, that air passengers prefer full body scanners to other security alternatives. This argument is actually false. "In fact, hundreds of air travelers have lodged objections with the TSA, alleging a host of law and policy violations arising from the TSA’s FBS searches. Air travelers object to the invasiveness of the FBS searches. Air travelers state that they are not informed when they undergo a FBS search, or of a pat-down alternative. Air travelers object to the use of FBS devices to search vulnerable individuals, including children and pregnant women. Pregnant air travelers objected to the TSA’s FBS search after the TSA scanned them without identifying the machine or informing them of how it operates." [3]

Additionally, the full body scanners cannot detect low-density materials including powders, liquids or thin pieces of plastic. [4] Full body scanners were not designed to detect the type of powder used in the 2009 Christmas bombing attempt. [5]

Technology Updates Respond to Privacy Concerns?

In September 2010, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. and OSI Systems Inc.’s Rapiscan, makers of the scanners for U.S. airports, claimed new technology would show a generic figure rather than an actual image of a passenger’s body parts, and mark sections of a person’s body that need to be checked. The updated technology would also eliminate the need for a TSA employee to observe the readout in a remote room. [6]

L-3 and Rapiscan shared a $47.9 million contract in April, 2010 for 302 of the scanners. L-3 will get $31.7 million to build 202 machines, and Rapiscan $16.2 million for 100. The funds were to come from last year’s $814 billion stimulus law.[6]

External Articles


  1. [1], "EPIC," accessed June 22, 2010.
  2. Id.
  3. Id.
  4. Leo Cendrowicz, "Will Full-Body Scanners at Airports Improve Security,", "Time Magazine," January 5, 2010.
  5. [2], "EPIC," accessed June 22, 2010.
  6. 6.0 6.1 New upgrades will make full-body scanners less privacy-offensive, Homeland Security Newswire, accessed September 13, 2010.