Remember last Christmas when the “underwear bomber” almost brought down a Delta jumbo-jet over Detroit?
That prompted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to grab a big pile of federal stimulus money for about 500 more full body scanners– you know, the ones that produce images like the one you see below.
There are currently 97 of the so-called “advanced imaging units” in use at airports across the country, but TSA says that number will soar to around 500 by the end of this year– with nearly 1000 in place by the end of 2011. That means frequent travelers should expect to encounter more of them, and soon.
Here’s what you need to know:
>WHERE ARE THEY? Just last week TravelSkills was invited down to San Jose Mineta International to check out the four new “backscatter” scanners that are currently being deployed at that airport’s Terminal A. (Four more units should be operational in SJC’s brand new Terminal B when it opens on June 30.) At San Francisco International, you’ll find full body scanners in the international terminal only. Oakland International expects installation of scanners to begin in July (Terminal 1) and August (Terminal 2).
>WHAT ARE THEY? There are two types of full body scanners: “Backscatter” scanners, which are in use at San Jose Airport, and older “millimeter wave” scanners which are in use at the international concourse at SFO. (See video for a look at the new generation units.)
>WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE? The newer backscatter machines look like two big blue boxes with a small open alley down the middle. (Millimeter wave units are rounder looking with the passenger surrounded by Plexiglas for the scan.)
>HOW DO I GET SCANNED? You walk into the scanners, turn sideways, place feet in square boxes marked on the rubber floor, hold hands up and wait for the TSA agent to tell you to exit. The whole process takes about five seconds. (See video for a real-life walk through.)
>WHAT IS DIFFERENT? As usual, you must remove shoes and belts and place them with carry-on luggage in bins. But when getting a full body scan, you must also remove your wallet or any other non-metallic objects from pockets. (Wallet removal is not necessary with the standard magnetometers.)
>WHAT ABOUT RADIATION? The TSA says that the radiation emitted by these machines is equivalent to what you are exposed to during about two minutes aboard at aircraft at altitude, and far less than what the government permits for cell phones.
>WHAT DO SCANNERS SCAN? Body scanners only expose what’s between your skin and the clothes you are wearing. They are NOT like x-rays, which penetrate your skin and show internal organs and bone. (This is a plus for travelers with artificial joints or other metallic implants who’ve been slowed down and forced to submit to pat downs at traditional magnetometers.)
>WHO SEES MY PRIVATES? The TSA agent directing you into the full body scanner never sees your image. This officer is wearing an earpiece and is in radio contact with another TSA officer viewing your image in a remote area. Once your image has been checked, this officer then tells the attending officer to allow you to pass, or to subject you to secondary screening if he/she sees any anomalies. (See video for a behind the scenes look at the remote viewing room.)
>WHAT HAPPENS TO THE IMAGES? The TSA emphasizes that these images cannot be stored, saved or transmitted. In addition, they do no allow officers to bring cameras, cell phones or PDA’s in rooms where images are viewed. (Except for ours, of course, but that was just for the media…)
>WHAT ABOUT ADULT DIAPERS OR SANITARY PADS? Citing confidentiality, the TSA officer at San Jose Airport would not tell me how or if the machines can tell the difference between a sanitary pad and contraband placed in the crotch area.
>WHO IS PAYING FOR ALL THIS? You are. The units cost about $150,000 a pop, which means that the TSA spent nearly $75 million on this latest round of full body scanners. (Check out how the stock of OSI Systems, parent of scanner manufacturer Rapiscan, has soared since Christmas when this order was placed)
So, what do you think, folks? Is this an invasion of your privacy, or a necessary evil for safety’s sake?
these machines are a pain. I am used to removing almost everything from myself, including shoes…but my last trip, I happened to use one of these machines, and got criticized roundly for…a hankerchief in each pocket. The horror, the terrible threat! Cotton hankerchiefs!
the tsa is out of control (and yes, reason and our elected representatives should be in control)
Let me get this right.
2 million passengers per day (in the US only) for the past 9 years (since 9/11) equals about 6.5 BILLION passengers.
One nut tries to blow up a plane with explosives in his underwear which failed. (BTW: You can’t put enough explosives in your underwear to down a plane) and now OUR GOVERNMENT wants to strip search or physically pat down all AMERICAN travelers at a cost of billions of dollars.
Nobody has been killed by terrorists on an American aircraft since 9/11!
Odds: 1 in 6.5 billion ? or less? the bombs didn’t work!
Powerball 1 in 40 million?
State lottery 1 in 14 million.
I’m 450 times more likely to win the state lottery, than to be killed by terrorists on a plane!
WHAT ARE OUR LEGISLATORS SMOKING?
What about the 300,000 killed in car crashes in the same period?
What’s wrong with this picture?