Whether you are a frequent flyer, business traveler, or an occasional traveler, the new airport security scanners and pat downs are a worry and intrusion for many people. From busy holiday travel to summer vacationers, airport full body scanners are making the news.
Interest and concern over these scanners has ranged from the highly offended to the staunch supporters. Whatever your opinion of the new body scanners, the use of them has made news recently.
From the man who threatened to have TSA security arrested for what he viewed as a pat down that was too personal to the leaked photos from the body scanners in Florida, many have questions and concerns over the new technology.
What you need to know about TSA body scanners
So before you threaten TSA security, expose yourself to strangers, or join the grassroots protests the day before Thanksgiving, here is some basic information you need to know about the TSA body scanners (Advanced Imaging Technology).
What is Advanced Imaging Technology?
Advanced Imaging Tehcnology is the use of image scanning devices on the human body to detect metallic and non metallic threats to security. This type of technology has existed for years in the medical field and is now being applied through the TSA as a safety measure to prevent terrorist attacks on airports and airplanes.
How does Advanced Imaging Technology work?
There are two types of technology being used – millimeter wave unit and backscatter unit.
The millimeter wave unit is a a giant capsule surrounded by glass. It creates a black and white 3D image of the body through the use of electromagnetic waves which are bounced off of the body. See a millimeter wave unit image here.
The backscatter unit is an enclosed screening room with no visibility or see through windows. Low level X-ray beams are passed over the body to create a reflection of the body. These are black and white images similar to X rays. These images are the ones that allow you to see through clothes to create naked images of the body. Currently, these are the more controversial scanners in terms of privacy issues. See a backscatter image here.
Are TSA body scanners safe?
According to the TSA, Advanced Imaging Technology is safe and meets safety and national health standards. Backscatter technology has been certified by a number of agencies and the radiation limits for both backscatter and millimeter wave units are well below the dose limits for ANSI (American National Standards Institute).
Advanced imaging technology is safe for all people including children, pregnant women, and those with implanted medical devices.
The energy transmitted by millimeter wave technology is a thousand times less than the transmission from a cell phone. Exposure from backscatter technology is equivalent to 2 minutes on an airplane flight.
Are TSA body scanners required?
No, these body scans are optional. If you choose to opt out of these body scans, you are subject to a thorough pat down from TSA security. While pat downs are noted to be thorough, some people are uncomfortable with them as pat downs include touching the inside of thighs and the buttocks.
Pat downs may be required for some people who set off the metal detectors, those who refuse to adhere to certain TSA requests for the removal of certain items, and some pat downs may be done randomly. (See the recent story on John Tyner and information on pat downs here)
Are my body scan images kept private?
Yes. According to the TSA, body scan images use privacy algorithms so the images are blurred and no faces are shown. Body scan images are viewed by another person at a remote location.
The remote officer cannot see the passenger nor can local security officers see the images. No images can be stored, printed, or transmitted by the TSA and the image is immediately deleted after it is cleared by the remote security officer.
Where are these body scanners being used?
There are currently 385 advanced imaging technology scanners (around 210 backscanner units in 38 airports, around 170 millimeter wave units at 30 airports) according to the TSA. The most recent list of airports using this technology are:
- Albuquerque International Sunport Airport
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
- Boston Logan International
- Bush Houston Interncontinental Airport
- Boise Airport
- Bradley International Airport
- Buffalo Niagara International Airport
- Charlotte Douglas International
- Chicago O’Hare International
- Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International
- Cleveland International Airport
- Corpus Christie Airport
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Denver International Airport
- Detroit Metro Airport
- Dulles International Airport
- El Paso International Airport
- Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International
- Fort Wayne International Airport
- Fresno Airport
- Gulfport International Airport
- Grand Rapids Airport
- Harrisburg International Airport
- Harlingen/Valley International Airport
- Honolulu International Airport
- Indianapolis International Airport
- Jacksonville International Airport
- John F. Kennedy International Airport
- Kansas City International
- LaGuardia International Airport
- Lambert/St. Louis International Airport
- Laredo International Airport
- Lihue Airport
- Los Angeles International
- Luis Munoz Marin International Airport
- McAllen Miller Airport
- McCarran International Airport
- Memphis International Airport
- Miami International Airport
- General Mitchell Milwaukee International Airport
- Mineta San José International
- Minneapolis/St.Paul International Airport
- Nashville International Airport
- Newark Liberty International Airport
- Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport
- Oakland International Airport
- Omaha Eppley Field Airport
- Orlando International Airport
- Palm Beach International Airport
- Philadelphia International Airport
- Phoenix International Airport
- Pittsburgh International Airport
- Port Columbus International
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport
- Richmond International Airport
- Rochester International Airport
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
- Salt Lake City International Airport
- San Antonio International Airport
- San Diego International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
- Spokane International Airport
- T.F. Green Airport
- Tampa International Airport
- Tulsa International Airport
Will the new TSA body scanner procedures cause me to miss my flight?
Not likely as even the thorough pat downs take only two minutes while scanners take about 30 seconds. To help get your way through security as quickly as possible, check out these 12 tips to help you avoid long security lines.
Make the right decision for you about TSA body scanners
While concerns over the new TSA body scanners and pat downs are growing, it helps to know what is out there, how it works, and what you can expect. Stories and rumors can make the idea of body scanners quite scary and intrusive.
While there are many stories, concerns, and protests, basic information about these body scanners helps each person make the decision that is right for them as to how they want to handle this new technology.
Like it or not, this technology is here to stay. Hopefully, this will lead to safe flights as we continue to work out the concerns with privacy and sensitivity to our personal levels of comfort.
airport body scanner (Flickr: Mike Licht)