Journalism in the Public Interest

TSA Removes X-Ray Body Scanners from Airports

The Transportation Security Administration will remove all X-ray body scanners from airports because privacy software couldn’t be developed on time. The scanners had been the subject of a ProPublica investigation into their safety.


The Transportation Security Administration will remove all X-ray body scanners from airports because privacy software couldn’t be developed on time. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

The Transportation Security Administration will remove all X-ray body scanners from airports, Bloomberg News reports. The reason: Software couldn't be developed by a congressionally mandated deadline to automatically detect suspicious items on the body. Instead, TSA officers viewed images of passengers' naked bodies to see if they were carrying weapons or other contraband, a process that privacy advocates have dubbed a "virtual strip search."

Privacy had not been the only concern dogging the scanners. A ProPublica investigation found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even the low doses of radiation emitted by X-ray scanners. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays. In addition, ProPublica reported that, outside airports, other security agencies are exposing people to radiation in more settings and in increasing doses.

The TSA also uses another, safer kind of scanner that doesn't emit X-rays. Instead, it sends out millimeter waves like those used in cell phones. Although there has been some doubt about the long-term safety of millimeter waves, scientists have not found a mechanism for such waves to mutate genes and cause cancer.

In October, the TSA parked many of its 250 X-ray scanners in a Texas warehouse after it removed them from most of the biggest U.S. airports, including Los Angeles, Chicago O'Hare, New York's John F. Kennedy, Boston Logan, Charlotte Douglas and Orlando. Back then, the TSA said it made the change to speed up checkpoints at busier airports. Because human officers have to view images, the X-ray scanners are slower than the automated millimeter wave machines.

In November, the TSA sent the maker of the scanners, Rapiscan Systems, a "show cause letter," which is typically issued when the government is considering terminating a contract. Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican head of the House transportation security subcommittee, cited an allegation that Rapiscan had falsified a software test, which the company denies.

X-ray scanners could still come back. The TSA is considering an X-ray machine made by another company under a contract for the next generation of body scanners.

The last X-ray scanners in use in Europe were removed from Manchester Airport in the United Kingdom in September. Israel, which is influential in the security world, has installed an X-ray body scanner for testing at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv.

Thanks Shawn Hannity and crowd.. What is the Republican Party going to do when they blow a plane out of the sky and the Dems remind everyone that your crowd was screaming the loudest about legit ament security procedures at airports…..

I have voted Republican my whole life, except the last election…and probably many more till you guys get your heads back on straight.

It seams you hate The President so much that you are willing to risk our security, financial recovery, and God knows what else to make him look bad…..

A FORMER republican voter….

I was burned on my chest and neck on January 1, 2013 at the San Antonio Airport when I went throught an X Ray Scanner. It was like a very bad sunburned and it effected my neck, chest and arms, I am still waiting to see if I get any other problems from the radiation.  I believe they need to remove this scanners as they are a health issue.


Feb. 15, 2013, 1:25 p.m.

Update: Body scanning is alive and well at both Dulles Airport and San Francisco airport last week (early February). We were raising our arms overhead, bent at the elbow as we planted our feet in yellow footprints painted on a floor mat.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Body Scanners

Body Scanners: Risking Health to Secure Airports

In an effort to detect explosives hidden under clothing, is the TSA jeopardizing passenger safety?

The Story So Far

The Transportation Security Administration is planning to roll out body scanners at nearly every airport security lane in the country by 2014. Right now, it has deployed more than 500, split about evenly between two technologies—one using X-rays and another using radio frequency waves.

Several prominent radiation safety experts have raised concerns about exposing millions of airline passengers to X-rays.

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