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January 11th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Body scanners can store, send images, group says

By Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers, CNN

Washington (CNN) - A privacy group says the Transportation Security Administration is misleading the public with claims that full-body scanners at airports cannot store or send their graphic images.

The TSA specified in 2008 documents that the machines must have image storage and sending abilities, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said.

In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in "test mode."

That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines - which can see beneath people's clothing - can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.

EPIC, a public-interest group focused on privacy and civil rights, obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Keep reading this story »

Filed under: Airline safety
soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Ian

    I like how no one addresses that the "underwear bomber" managed to get on the plane without a passport. We already have security measures in place that aren't being followed and these scanners will be no different. Happy flying.

    January 30, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  2. GeneC

    Of course we are really missing the big picture here.

    If we use the scanners right, we can actually take care of two issues in America; terrorism and public health.

    Turn up the power on the Full Body Scanners and do a medical check too.

    Now that is multitasking.

    January 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Daniel

    Most of you are a bunch of TOOLS.

    Who cares if it scans you down to the flesh – do you have something to hide?

    January 13, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
  4. deepsea

    Kevin McCarthy.......
    I believe, sir, that I have seen you in numerous incarnations at executive meetings, expounding on these topics. You are the man everyone was secretly wishing they could throw the complimentary donuts at. Regardless of who's "side" you are on, you suck up a lot of oxygen. I can only hope the trees fight back, and a big oak falls on you before you can kill it to publish a book.

    January 13, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  5. Kumar

    I have a quick question, would appreciate if somebody can answer.

    Were these scanners in production even before the underwear incident happen? How come the turn around time is so short to get these canners installed? Does this mean there were already plans to install these scanners even before that incident happen?

    January 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  6. Ian

    I can't believe I am supposed have increased risk of getting killed in mid air because a bunch of privacy freaks don't want to get their fat asses scanned. Actual hot naked porn is available free on the internet, trust me, nobody wants to see you.

    January 13, 2010 at 10:16 am |
  7. TW

    Enough ... everyone who is crying about a blacl and white scan is just crazy.. You DO NOT have any privacy when you fly. Your privacy is you option not to fly. By the way the same people who are crying about a full body scann are the same ones who would wear a string Bikini at the beach or pool which show a lot more.

    In stead you should be worried about hom much you will pay in tax when this administrations RAPES its people for the benifit of socialism and the desire to destroy the middle class.....

    January 13, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  8. Kevin McCarthy

    Moore’s Law and Whole Body Imaging: Moving Technology to the Next Level
    January 12th, 2010- by Kevin McCarthy

    The news cycles, talking heads and many elected officials seem to be in a bit of a tizzy over the images created Whole Body Imaging (WBI) systems. Current technology produces a de-identified raw data image of the human form with items of concern as they appear. The technology will only be of value, however, if it is deployed and used to its maximum capability. A large part of this capability is the deterrence factor. When screening can reveal everything a potential terrorist has concealed on-body or in-baggage, would-be attackers will move on to some different venue. Deterrence requires technologies (and technology operators) that work flawlessly and in real time, and for this reason, we need to deploy WBI today for a greater benefit tomorrow.

    There are currently two operable systems: Backscatter Passenger Imaging, which uses low intensity X-ray technology to show items in pockets or concealed on the person; and Millimeter Wave Technology, which projects radio frequency energy over the passenger’s body creating a 3-D image and revealing the smallest concealed item.

    Technology adapts rapidly and can prevent potentially embarrassing situations with undressed human forms. Solutions to enhance security through the use of WBI will become more effective when the data is synthesized to produce a depiction of the entire situation on a generic form, enabling real-time interpretation without the distraction of raw data. These diagrams will have icons generated by algorithms detecting suspect items; however, until WBI is deployed on a large scale, there will not be the necessary critical mass to address the social issues and derive the economy of scale. From this, technological solutions to public concerns will be established and the machines will be produced at more affordable prices.

    If we take a moment to consider the efficacy of WBI and the invested public and private funds, we are likely to witness a clear example of Moore’s law, which precisely describes a driving force of technological and social change in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. The capabilities of digital electronic devices processing speed, sensors, and even the number and size of pixels in digital cameras are all improving at (roughly) exponential rates. This has dramatically increased the usefulness of digital electronics in nearly every segment of the world economy.

    All one needs to do is look at the History Channel for WWII stories on the secret new system – RADAR. Compare the raw data display of the radar oscilloscope with today’s synthesized weather depiction on the evening news; you would be hard-pressed to recognize it as the same basic system. The WBI screeners are now working with truly rudimentary raw data, compared to what they will be working with in a short time. When WBI is deployed for use in real-time by a wide array of screeners, it will need the finest synthetic depiction engineers can develop to keep the system functioning and the lines moving.

    This is the twenty-first century, and technology is constantly accelerating. Look back just a few years at the then new system of Google Earth and compare it with the infinite number of applications available on that depiction using icons to enable the human brain to absorb information in real-time. A pilot operating an F-16, F-18, F-22 does not look at the raw data of analog instruments with dials and gauges, nor do they use an oscilloscope to interpret their multi-sensor and targeting suite. Rather, they use a synthetic depiction with clearly defined icons. They have the latest in visualization tools to enable real-time human interpretation. This is the same technology advancement that will become the standard for WBI. The human form will be some type of avatar or line diagram with icons depicting the analysis of the system on various objects encountered.

    I have worked on building common operating pictures with massive amounts of data incorporated and depicted. Data, technology and intelligence analysis does not become a solution until such time as the information can be conveyed to the human decision maker in near real-time and visualization greatly expedites the process and comprehension. Moore’s law will kick in here shortly, and WBI will become yet another ubiquitous aspect of air travel. Our adversaries will learn of our screening technology, and they will have to devise new avenues to pursue. This will give us time to detect them and offer greater incentives to discontinue their behavior.

    Read more:

    January 13, 2010 at 9:19 am |
  9. KK

    It is not just about being shy. What if you are an old man with a colostomy bag and want some medical privacy? What if you are transgendered and the screeners figure you must be a terrorist in disguise because you look like a woman but have male sex organs? There are plenty of reasons other than modesty to not want strangers inspecting your nude body!

    January 13, 2010 at 8:56 am |
  10. Henry Plage

    It appears that most Americans will accept the scanners.......Is it too simplistic to say to those that feel that scanners invade their privicy to just not fly? Take another form of transportation or just stay where you are?

    January 13, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  11. Hank

    For all those who think those objecting to these scans are only a little bit squeamish...

    This is the latest in a long series of freedoms that we are losing in the name of "security," and they should not be surrendered lightly. Let's face it, any would-be terrorist will come up with another way to beat the system.

    Meanwhile, our Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search are being shredded.

    I am categorically against this latest assault on our liberty.

    And by the way, for all the smart guys out there recommending I take a train to get from LA to New York instead, please remember this is a constitutional issue.

    The underwear bomber would have been caught if we had followed the protocols already in place.

    January 12, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  12. patl

    I don't think that anyone should object to being screened so that we can be safe when flying. If they have a problem, then take a train or ship!!!!!!

    January 12, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  13. Tnette

    Someone on the news said that scanners can't see something stored internally. Either they were LYING or they haven't thought of every contingency (which is near impossible to do). But if this IS true, um well then, can someone say "dildo bombers"?


    There has to be a better way...

    January 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  14. Do you really care ?

    Wow – "Blurry outlines of girls gone wild" – what a turn on. You have to be kidding me. Who cares if they can save and send the image. Did you ever consider they need to do this for court cases, educational information to share between airports for training purposes etc. If you don't like it stay home, take the bus, the train or walk. It is these very people who complain that put everyone else at risk. And yes you have to search EVERYONE! Stop the pro rights garbage. If a plastic or ceramic knife makes it on board your flight you'll reconsider your rights. If your so concerned about someone seeing your fat rolls call Jenny Craig and do something about it.

    January 12, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  15. Larisa Voronina

    Because some agency failed to recognize the terrorist, now people must be punished…Stripping all people, who obviously has nothing to do with the “risk group”, children and seniors is just waste of money and time and privacy invasion. Listen the Israelis experience, they shared it, you must profile in order to look at those who really might be dangerous and not make life for everyone miserable who need use planes. Also, I don’t buy that all those radiation are so innocent to you; thank God they are not saying it’s good for you. I think, any person should still have the right to object screening and request the other means of search instead, if necessary, and request the same gender TSA agent conduct that search.

    January 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  16. D. Hampton

    I just don't get it-get male screeners for males and female screeners for females–I am sure everyone would be ok with that!!!!
    Unless of course its discrimination if we don't allow females to view males!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    January 12, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  17. deepsea

    I am a professional explosives expert. I spent over 20 years working for the military, and now I work for a major government agency, teaching my particular trade. I am also an amateur historian, who has studied various prisoner of war escape stories extensively.
    I can tell you that TSA faces a near-impossible task. If all personal freedoms were eliminated, and passengers were searched at gunpoint, there would still be successful attacks. Historically, the nazis never managed to completely thwart allied prisoner escape or smuggling efforts, no matter what they tried. Add to that, TSA personnel are so thouroughly second-guessed by armchair idiots, their hands are almost tied. The public just doesn't get it......placing the focus on whether government employees can take or save a picture (of what amounts to "Buzz Lightyear naked") is what makes us look like fools to people that want us dead.
    As to the Intel-sharing......have you ever gotten these reports? Really? Here's a bit of news for you: If somebody blows up a Taco Bell in Memphis with a hairbrush shoved up a poodle's tailpipe, some report, somewhere, is going to predict it. You chase every report, or second-guess which reports were considered realistic, and you'll need about 20 million more people to get into uniform to enforce all the searches.
    I can teach anyone to do what I do....a kid, a man, a pregnant understand why everyone is treated equally. Everyone is considered a possible threat. Nobody needs to be mistreated; but if you want to help save the next 100 or so innocent souls that are going to be on the flight that a bomber is targeting, quit screaming about somebody seeing you in a blurry picture that even your mother wouldn't recognize.

    January 12, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  18. MarjorieinKenmore

    After listening to the TSA and others speak in regards to the scanners, I have a major concern and that is what the effects will be on pregnant women, also I am concerned with the number of times you would have to be "zapped" in order for the desired image to appear? Hence concern for the radiaton level. Sometimes during x-rays if the image doesn't come out clearly they will repeat the process.

    January 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  19. Ricardo

    The problem I have with the new "strip search" machines that are being implemented in major airports (and eventually every airport) is that it forces the public to submit, invades their privacy, breaks child pornography laws and (just like every other invasive tech tool) will be abused by sick perverts. If we allow ourselves to be treated like cattle, guilty before innocent prisoners and give up our liberties for security...we will soon find ourselves in an oppressive, paranoid society where everyone is tattle-telling on each other for meager awards, merit and money. What is being implemented is an unconstitutional, unwarranted, strip-search that belittles and degrades every man, woman and child that is scanned. It also poses a health-risk to those that are scanned and to the workers manning the machines.

    If we allow this to happen to ourselves and our families, what kind of people are we? And more important, what is next?

    Keep in mind that Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff lined his pockets by aggressively promoting the scanner technologies in which he is heavily invested. Source:

    Even if you really believe that Terrorists are hiding under every rock, dark corner or airport....scanning everyone's naked body (guilty or not) is just disgusting and doesn't offer the protection they are claiming. A perfect example is the so-called "underwear bomber" in Amsterdam, where they have body scanners. He was scanned and still walked right through (go figure!)

    It's garbage, folks! It's all made up to scare us into allowing them to take away our freedoms, rape and rob us, and become passive sheep without questioning any of it. We've seen all this before.....Where they take a population's freedoms away, line them up, strip and degrade them....and then walk them right into a gas chamber! The scanners and media fear mongering are psychological attacks to keep the population's morale down, establish oppression....and to see how far they can push the population into total submission.

    January 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  20. William

    I travel 7-10 times a year by plane, i will not be subjected to this form of intrusion. I will forgo traveling and that include my yearly family trip (family of 4) I am sure many will feel like I do and just say NO to the Airlines.

    January 12, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  21. Just Wondering

    I'm not too worried about privacy, but just how far can these scanners penetrate? What is their strength? Can it see an implanted medical device or pin in your leg? and if so, are they much safer than an x-ray?

    There have been several articles published recently about how medical body scans can actually lead to more cancers. If people fly frequently for work, are they going to be exposed to the equivalent of dozens of x-rays? What about pregnant women?

    January 12, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  22. Amy

    I am currently pregnant and travel frequently to visit family and friends. I am very concerned with the possible effects on pregnant women while using these full body scanners. I'm also surprised that the TSA hasn't released any information (to my knowledge) about this important issue. Please provide any information that you may have on this topic. Thank you.

    January 12, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  23. dave in des moines

    I am concerned the affects of these machines on pregnant women. At any
    doctor's office, you will notice signs on x-ray machines. If you are pregnant
    or think you are pregnant, please let the doctor know. I would like to know are using these machines or are these machines placed far enough for expecting moms walking through any airport. Please do a research report
    with medical experts concerning these concerns.

    January 12, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  24. embarased

    My concern is that when I step into the machine, will the operators laugh so hard the whole airport will hear them.

    January 11, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  25. Pro-American

    What a joke:

    "No cameras, cell phones or other devices capable of capturing an image are allowed in the room where the image is displayed, according to the TSA."

    The TSA also has a policy preventing their agents from leaving their post in the Newark Airport...

    By the way, I noticed a scanner image in this CNN article. I am looking at a computer screen and not a scanner. So how did that image get out of a scanner onto the internet??? The TSA said it was not possible.

    January 11, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  26. Pro-American

    BigD if a suspicious object is noticed they stop the person as they leave the scanner and take them away. Besides they need to free up the scanner for the next 10,000 people in line.

    My complaint is the illogic of strip-searching non-terrorists to catch terrorists. There were a multitude of strong, red-flag clues that pointed to the fact that the Nigerian was going to commit a terrorist act. Everybody ignored those clues.

    So how would strip-searching children in Iowa have done more to catch that guy when all the obvious indicators were NOT used to catch him?

    It did not take a scanner for his own father to report him and all authorities ignored him.

    January 11, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  27. James Christensen

    Who guards the guards is not the question. The question iis , as the scanners can send – who can receive? Just the government? How comforting to know that no hacker can, or has, ever broken into government computer systems. LOL I think I will stick to pat down searches, thank you. So will my 10 year old daughter and my 6 year old daughter. How many pedo-hackers are there anyway? Or even pedo-guards with concealed cameras?

    January 11, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  28. Harry in Texas

    I say we should just stop being so worried about shapes and outlines. I would much rather my body shape is exposed to an airport screener, than my losing my life because someone was able to hide a plastic explosive in their underwear.

    A side benefit may be that people, when afraid that someone might see the awful shape their are in because they cannot hide it with clothing, may start to shape up and become more healthy.

    January 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  29. Mark Davis

    Stephen Daedalus- a fatal flaw? Really? Fatal? Or is it you and your use of latin that is the real fatal flaw? Is your use of latin a vieled attempt to hide your own fatal flaw in logic! (And when I say "vieled" attempt that is not an anti-muslam comment) Or is your use of greek more than that? Is it in fact shall I say this? Quis Ipso gratus gorganzola!!! (Take note of the three exclamation points)

    January 11, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  30. Paul templeton

    I don't get the issue here.
    1. The scans are NOT like pictures of you nude, its more like what you would look like in a strange looking body suit.
    2. Even your face doesn't look very identifiable.
    The only people I would think to have a legitimate issue with this would be people that for medical reasons have to wear Diapers or other appliances that most would find embarrassing.

    January 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  31. Bubba

    Easy to check; just have Angelina Jolie walk through a couple of them. Wait a week and see if the scans turn up online. I bet you a nickel they will. Then we thank her for her service to our country.

    January 11, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  32. B F

    Privacy advocates seem to think that there's no choice for shy travellers. People who don't like these new machines DO have a choice. You can travel by other means. Simply put, make going thru the new machines a condition of getting on that airplane, just like another condition of boarding the plane is paying the airfare. If you don't like the prospect of "being seen" without clothes on, then you have other options: car, taxi, boat, train, etc.
    One option the TSA should consider is hiring someone from a medical background to look at the scanned images.
    It would be nothing more than a doctor looking at an xray, then looking at you while you are wearing a patient smock. What's so embarrassing about that? Lighten up, people! If it meant guaranteeing safe travel, I would not oppose stripping down in front of TSA agents. I'll bet the Europeans are laughing at you right now because you think you are being violated by stepping into the new machines.

    January 11, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  33. gregg

    Widespread idiocy !!!!

    Even if the scans were able to be published, have you actually looked at a scan?? It's not like you can make out who the person is, and the scan in itself is anonymous. Nobody would know it's "You" – so how can that possibly be an invasion of privacy? If you're worried about whether someone can see you have breasts – guess what.... your low-neck line sweater already tells the tale!

    In the fight against terrorism, being concerned that an X-ray scan of you might leak onto the Internet might be the dumbest objection to a national security matter in the history of mankind.

    January 11, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  34. Kevin McCarthy

    Failed Bomber and the Use of Whole Body Imaging
    January 7th, 2010- by Kevin McCarthy

    Now that the Administration has fully engaged in evaluating the systems failures, which allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian Islamic terrorist, to board a US airliner with a bomb concealed in his underwear, I feel compelled to contribute my insight.

    Based on 33 years flying large transport aircraft worldwide for both the US Air Force and a major US airline and concurrently being an aviation security and operations expert, I see the return of many old issues. Following 9/11, the nation came together supporting the concept that intelligence data had not been proactively shared to allow government agencies to meet the threat arrayed against us.

    As an established AvSec specialist from well before 9/11, I articulated widely that not only had the intelligence not been shared between government agencies but also with the private sector operators. Had I and my professional colleagues been consulted by the FBI on the data they had acquired, an understanding of airliner flying lessons without the proper background and focused on only flying not landing could only point to one conclusion.

    Now an even more prominent indicator and warning has been ignored. In the hilarious 1980 movie Airplane, outlandish aspects and innuendos of airline industry were the satirized. In one vignette responding to the Arabic hijackers of the late 1970s, a young Arabic man is handed his boarding pass as the agent recites his travel data: “one-way ticket, cash, no luggage – here is your ticket Mr.….” In 1980, that was funny; 30 years later it is a sad commentary that both the public and private sector still cannot learn from historic facts.

    Next, the universal hew and cry for better technology to find bad things carried by passengers. Items carried by law-abiding people do not automatically make them homicidal. In fact, the 9/11 terrorists did not carry any prohibited items onto the airplanes other then their intent to commit atrocities. Things and items do not kill people, in this case – people kill people.

    The focus of our 21st century technology efforts will be better aligned when targeted on detecting questionable people first then ascertaining if bad things are also involved. This does not include profiling racial, religious or ethnic appearances; rather the detection of behavioral traits, and/or analysis of data, which indicates a need for closer surveillance, examination and investigation of individuals. The basic premise is that people who are about to commit a crime will behave differently than someone going for an airplane ride; especially in the case of suicide bombers as they have not previously practiced their crime.

    This leaves us with applying technology, behavioral science and intelligence analysis to vet the traveling public. Many travelers today are military members, government employees or federally elected officials who carry US government security clearances well exceeding that of the screeners at the airport.

    Most of these folks already have biometric credentials and given proper equipment to read them will positively establish their identity. These known travelers could be directed into a screening-lite line for a much quicker and efficient process. A second group would likely be comprised of the great majority of travelers of whom considerable information is already contained in the reservations computer even if they only travel occasionally. This group gets the current standard screening procedure to include secondary screening should questions be raised. Finally, there will be a small group of whom little is known, points of origin or destination, payment methods, behavioral triggers tripped, or newly integrated watchlist flags. These people need to be thoroughly evaluated, and this is where the best technology comes into play.

    Whole Body Imaging (WBI) currently in use and development uses either of two different technologies. Backscatter Passenger Imaging uses low intensity X-ray technology to show items in pockets or concealed on the person. Millimeter Wave Technology involves projecting radio frequency energy over the passenger’s body creating a 3-D image and revealing the smallest concealed item. The images from both systems are rendered unrecognizable, and we certainly have the ability to prevent misuse of the equipment. Indeed both systems have security blocks built in that prevent the recording or storage of an image.

    I agree with the President’s remarks of yesterday: “we have to do better, we will do better, and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.”

    There are aviation security professionals like myself with many years of operational experience. When this expertise is synergized with government intelligence analysts and airline operators, we will find that the sum of the parts truly exceeds that of the individual parts taken separately.

    “Private sector preparedness is not a luxury; it is a cost of doing business in the post-9/11 world. It is ignored at a tremendous potential cost in lives, money, and in national security.” – 9/11 Commission Final Report

    Read more:

    January 11, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  35. Stephen Daedalus

    There is another fatal flaw here, that is not being discussed. Even if the TSA was a great organization (and we've seen evidence to the contrary in Newark for example) there would be the potential for abuse. How? A camera. Given current and improving technology even a well screened worker in this remote site could covertly take pictures or video.

    Even if that person is being monitored, does it matter? That becomes a "Quis custodet ipsos custodes" issue then. In fact, it already is.

    January 11, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  36. BigD Snow Bound MN

    If My Job in the GOV'MENT was to Catch Suicide Bombers + My Dept. was Airport Customs + Had Body Scanners, If I Was Non-Sexual, at 61 I feel Non-Sexual at times;

    I guess If You Got a Body Scan Image that Showed a Bomb on a Terrorist + You Apprehended Him or Her; You Could Say; " Well, We Gotta Let You Go Cause the Scanning Machine Can Retain Images for Only 2-minutes + Yours Was Deleted- So You're Free to Go!"

    "Goodbye, Maybe We'll See You Again– Miss You- Say Hi to Everyone Back Home in Africa For Us. See You Soon!"

    January 11, 2010 at 8:52 am |