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TSA Nude Scanners Coming To American Malls

You're kidding, right?



What now?

A Yahoo article says that because women's cloths sizing is hard, they're going to nude scan them to figure out what they can wear. Seriously!?

Ms. Shaw, the entrepreneur, is chief executive of a company called MyBestFit that addresses the problem. It is setting up kiosks in malls to offer a free 20-second full-body scan — a lot like the airport, minus the pat-down alternative that T.S.A. agents offer.

Lauren VanBrackle, 20, a student in Philadelphia, tried MyBestFit when she was shopping last weekend.

“I can be anywhere from a 0 at Ann Taylor to a 6 at American Eagle,” she said. “It obviously makes it difficult to shop.” This time, the scanner suggested that at American Eagle, she should try a 4 in one style and a 6 in another. Ms. VanBrackle said she tried the jeans on and was impressed: “That machine, in a 30-second scan, it tells you what to do.”

That's cute. A strip search in the name of getting something to wear? So instead of wasting millions on this disrobing plan, why not standardize women's clothing and use inch measurements like men's clothes? How's that for an idea?

How long until someone hacks these poorly protected machines to record copies of all women scanned and the photos show up on the Internet? Will you put your teenage daughters in them?

This is so, so stupid, I can't believe it's actually true. I really hope this doesn't catch on because if it does, my faith in humanity will suffer yet again.

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Israel Airport Security is Good Because of Profiling

You know a good way to spot a terrorist? Look for someone who looks and acts like one (like they do in Israel)!

I know this ridiculous concept of banning profiling came out of the dark days of racism where people were profiles on things that didn't matter like the color of your skin. But that doesn't mean that profiling is wrong.

People profile all the time and they should. If you walk out to your car late at night and there's younger male with ratty clothes staring you down while sharpening a machete, should you keep walking since you "don't want to offend him by running the hell away"?

Give it a rest folks. If the TSA didn't have to give kids and the elderly the same attention as someone who's actually likely to be a terrorist, imagine how much smoother and simpler flying would be.

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4th Amendment Underwear and Shirts

This isn't what it would look like though...

It'd be nice if they could post an actual picture of a backscatter scan instead of a full x-ray, but this is still pretty cool. I personally wouldn't buy one since I'd rather not be scanned at all than try to make a statement after the fact.

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TSA Scanner Political Cartoons

(Image is in the Public Domain)

Check these out 🙂

Also a series of current articles and links about the issue here.

And finally a story of a pat down that's been resurrected from 2002 by Penn of Penn and Teller.

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Nude Scan Photos Weren’t Supposed to be Stored – They Were

The TSA has constantly said that photos from the nudie scanners wouldn't be stored so how did we get : this story of nudie scanners where over 35000 photos were stored. Whoops.

To be fair, this wasn't the TSA, but US Marshalls in an Orlando courthouse, but the technology makes it possible. If the only thing that stops someone from recording a pic is a setting on the machine, I don't feel very safe.

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TSA Pilot Refuses Naked Scanner – TSA Response

(Image is in the Public Domain)

Maybe you haven't heard of this yet, but a pilot working for ExpressJet refused to use the new nudie scanners installed at his airport. They offered to pat him down instead, but according to him:

"Pat down is misleading," Roberts explained. "They concentrate on the area between the upper thighs and torso, and they're not just patting people's arms and legs, they're grabbing and groping and prodding pretty aggressively."

I've written about this previously as it's been reported that refusing the scanner will get you a ''super-sized'' pat-down almost like a punishment and this experience seems to confirm that.

Peter Pietra, the head of privacy for the TSA is a reasonable guy who I met at a conference once. I asked him about this issue and he stated that the procedures seemed to work as intended. People have the right to opt out, but must be patted down in the process. I asked him about the "aggressive pat-down" and he said this:

There is no retaliatory pat-down for people who decline AIT. There used to be several types of pat-downs, but there are now only two (standard, and resolution). People who decline AIT or metal detector, for that matter, get the standard pat-down, but our standard pat-down changed about a month ago .... There was a flurry of media attention about a month ago on it, and some complaints following the news articles, but not a lot. My rough recollection is a dozen or fewer complaints specific to the new pat-down.
There is no retalitory pat-down…people who decline get a standard pat-down

Along with my previous talks with him, this is the second time he's assured me that there is no special treatment of people who refuse the scan. While I'm positive there are people who abuse their authority or make things tougher for people who they think make things tough for them (asserting rights which also makes their job harder), here's the thing:

There are two pat-downs and while I don't know what warrants the second, you should only get the first by refusing to be scanned. Therefore, if your pat down is more extensive than what you see old people with heart devices getting, it's time to complain and complain loudly (which is what I believe this pilot has done and good for him). Peter says he thinks there's no problem because he hasn't received many complaints. If you think you've been a victim of retaliation or excessive probing, make sure he hears about it.

Make sure your voice is heard. You can connect with his office here: TSAPrivacy@dhs.gov

Support for the Pilot

There's been a lot of support for him in the airline industry (among workers not officially). Here are some of the industry forums where they're talking about him:


UPDATE 2010/11/07

I recently went through the airport and also refused the scanner. I was patted down, but the TSA employee was very clear and professional. At no point did I feel uncomfortable.

It's a big deal if someone overdoes it and they should be called out, but it really wasn't a problem for me.

However, I was once told that signs would be prominently posted showing people they could opt out of the scan, but I found none anywhere.

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Skip the Nudie Scanner, Get Extra Frisking as Punishment

There are some people who have reported extra screening and scrutiny of their person and personal belongings when they refuse to engage in the TSA nudie scanner fiasco.

I went over to the TSA blog to see what the climate was and the responses are overwhelmingly against the technology.

From the complaints that have been coming in, it seems to be common practice for TSA to send people through the machines without telling them what they do or offering them a choice. How does anyone think that this is OK?


Bob, why would the TSA use backscatter at all when MMW is much less risky in terms of exposure to harmwave wavelengths.

There were other issues listed such as the scanning of children nude and the right to ask that your belongings always remain in your sight while they're being analyzed (which is only useful if you know about that right).

I once met the head of privacy for the TSA, Peter P., and got his contact information. I just sent him an e-mail suggesting that the only way that it would be ethical to use these machines is to:

  1. Post on the machine actual, unedited, unblurred photos of real people being scanned.
  2. Verbally tell each person to be scanned that they may opt-out every time

I don't know if he'll respond or what he'll say, but expect they won't do either of these because if they did, people would probably never use them at all. But that's the point isn't it? We should know exactly what's going to happen and be able to make an informed choice.

Anyway, if he does respond, I'll post it here.


It's really quite surprising how quickly he responded. Not more than 2 hours after my e-mail, I received a phone call where he answered my questions.

He says there are already images on all machines that are exactly what the operators see, just not life sized though he didn't know why that matters to people. In fact, some people have complained about the nudity on the signs (which I expected would happen, but we don't care about them do we :)).

There are also indications that you can choose to have a pat down in the largest font of all text on the machine. I can't really say if that's sufficient considering I haven't seen the machines personally, though I doubt a simple sign is enough unless it's a pretty big font.

He says a verbal notice would add too much time and present it more as a negative thing when it wasn't (a matter of opinion) and he's right about that so I didn't expect much. The main thing is how the operators act in practice. If someone seems hesitant, they should immediately offer the pat-down instead, but do they?

On the subject of how people are treated when refusing the scan, he said that it's impossible to monitor that process, but they are trained not to do extra screening just because someone opted-out. He also pointed out that at last year's CFP Conference a woman who claimed to have been subjected to nearly 20 minutes of screening was actually only there for less than 3 (they checked the video). He said perception plays a large part and I can't disagree with that.

What is fact is that people are frustrated and angry. We don't trust that the machines won't be misused and there's at least one case where they already were. Is there anything the TSA could do to win our trust? Who' knows, but here's the page where they have all the information about the machines and how they're used.

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Coalition Petitions DHS to Suspend Nudie Airport Scanner Technology

Looks like The Electronic Privacy Information Center - EPIC is hard at work blanketing the DHS with a variety of arguments why the porno scanners shouldn't be used. Religious freedom, privacy law, and even a simple argument that they're not effective enough for the money.

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TSA at the CFP Conference

(Image is in the Public Domain)

I ended up sitting next to Peter Pietra, the head of the privacy department at the TSA. This gave me an interesting opportunity to talk about issues of privacy when dealing with their agency and the first thing I asked was about the pornographic backscatter x-ray devices.

He was clearly frustrated (and I don't blame him) as I'm sure this is a topic that assaults him regularly. The issue is that backscatter CAN see through your clothes, but the TSA orders the devices preconfigured at a level that prevents them from seeing pictures such as these one on the Internet. They are also unable to modify the configuration. In fact what they actually see, as shown on their site, is smeared blob that highlights objects, but not skin.

The issue that I have here is that if the TSA's claims of how they use the technology are true, then what the hell was all the hype about?

Images will be deleted immediately once viewed and will never be stored, transmitted or printed (the passenger imaging units have zero storage capability) Metallic and non-metallic objects are displayed, including all items that a passenger may be carrying on his/her person

Also, according to the website, you can always choose to have a pat-down instead.

I asked Peter about this because it seems to me most people aren't going to know to go to the website and read about Backscatter before being faced with it at an airport, but he said that the sample picture on the web is printed right on the machine and people are supposed to be shown the picture and told of the option for pat down prior to being scanned.

Final Thoughts

I notice that the picture on the TSA site is from behind so probably doesn't fairly show how much frontal detail they would see so for full disclosure, they should show a frontal picture. However, I can understand why someone wouldn't want to show what amounts to nudity on these machines for propriety reasons and don't necessarily consider that evasive.

What more can you ask for than clear disclosure and a reasonable choice? Granted the technology can be used for worse things, but the devices is about as small and conspicuous as a casket so you'll never be scanned without your knowledge. If they are configured correctly, store nothing, and you can opt for a pat down, then perhaps some have been too harsh on both the technology and the agency.

Speaking of, EPIC's article that led me to write about backscatter in the first place unfairly show the capabilities of backscatter ignoring the actual use of the technology by the TSA. I'm sure there's someone from EPIC around the conference somewhere and I'll be sure to ask them about it.

What TSA Sees
What EPIC Shows
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TSA’s Backscatter X-Ray Goes to Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport

Privacy.org points to an article explaining that the backscatter x-ray will be fielded in Phoenix. This X-ray device can penetrate clothes, but not skin making a pornographic video of them. Yes this allows the TSA to see if you're carrying bombs or guns, but it also removes your clothing.

Update 5/22/2008

It turns out that the technology can be used as described, but the TSA has made taken very good steps towards handling much of the concern. Details in my post here.
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