Focusing public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues

Body Scanner FAQ

1. What are full body scanners (FBS)?

Full body scanners are machines that produce detailed 3D images of the naked human body. Experts have described a full body scan as a "digital strip search." The Transportation Security Administration is in the process of rolling out full body scanners at airports across the United States.

2. How is the TSA using body scanners?

The TSA is using full body scanners as primary screening for airport security. This contradicts earlier promises by the agency that body scanners would only be used for secondary screening. Although the TSA claims to give passengers a choice between a body scan and a pat down search, many passengers are not told of the option and travelers also report that the pat down is very intrusive.

3. Who has to go through body scanning?

The TSA plans to replace metal detectors with body scanners at security checkpoints. If body scanners are fully deployed, all airplane passengers, including small children, could be required to undergo a full body scan.

4. What image does a FBS machine capture?

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5. What are EPIC's objections to the use of full body scanners by airport security?

Full body scanning is a deeply invasive process that produces detailed, 3D, rotatable, zoomable images of passengers' naked bodies. These images are then examined by government employees. Using full body scanners as primary airport security screening subjects passengers to an intrusive and embarrassing search without suspicion that any particular individuals have engaged in wrongdoing. While the TSA claims that no passenger images are stored, TSA purchasing contracts reveal that the machines were designed to capture, store, and transfer passenger images. The ability to store and transfer images, combined with known security holes in the body scanner software and hardware, creates the risk that sensitive passenger images could be leaked to the public. Even though body scanners raise serious privacy concerns, the TSA has failed to consider less intrusive alternatives that do not reveal the naked body.

6. Who else has objected to body scanners?

Many organizations have objected to the deployment of full body scanners. In April, a coalition of 30 organizations asked the Transportation Security Administration to suspend the full body scanner program. Individual passengers have also expressed concerns to the TSA.

Many people also object to full body scanners on religious grounds. Pope Benedict XVI has objected to full body scans because they fail to preserve the integrity of individuals. An Orthodox Jewish group has called full body scans offensive and demeaning, and said that they "fall short of acceptable norms of modesty" within Judaism and other faiths. A leading Muslim group has declared that "general and public use of [full body scanners] is against the teachings of Islam, natural law, and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty."

7. Are body scanners safe?

Medical experts have raised concerns about the health risks posed by full body scanners. In April, scientists from the University of California-San Francisco expressed "serious concern" that use of full body scanners would increase the risk of cancer to children, the elderly, pregnant women, and others prone to cancer. Dr. David Brenner reported that radiation exposure from full body scanners may be up to twenty times greater than previously acknowledged by the Department of Homeland Security, and that even if the increased risk to any one individual is small, the risk to the whole population could be significant. The European Commission has called for "a rigorous scientific assessment" of potential health risks before full body scanners are employed in Europe.

8. I'm worried about being seen naked, but I'm also concerned about security. How effective are body scanners at catching bad guys?

Substantial questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the FBS devices. Research shows that the full body scanners being used by the TSA are not designed to detect powdered explosives such as those used in the attempted Christmas Day bombing.

9. Are other countries using full body scanning technology?

Dubai International Airport, the largest airport in the Middle East and Africa, has rejected the use of full body scanning technology due to the ethical concerns the scanners raise within Islamic culture.

In Europe, full body scanners are being evaluated at a handful of airports in Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, and Italy. As in the US, the use of body scanners has raised privacy and health concerns in the EU. In fact, the UK has banned the use of body scanners on children under 18.

In Asia, full body scanners are being tested or installed in Japan, Hong Kong and South Korea, yet significant privacy concerns remain.

In North America, Canada has begun installing full body scanners at airports, but there are currently no plans to deploy body scanners in Central or South America.

10. Why did EPIC sue the Department of Homeland Security?

EPIC believes the body scanner program is unlawful, invasive, and ineffective. EPIC asked the DHS to collect public comments on the program and to suspend installation of the scanners. The DHS basically ignored EPIC's petitions and has instead pushed aggressively to make full body scanners the primary screening method at airports.

EPIC sued the DHS for its failure to act in response to EPIC's petitions. EPIC charges that the body scanner program violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act because capture of naked images offends the beliefs of Muslims and other religious groups. EPIC also argues that the body scanners are overly invasive and violate travelers' Fourth Amendment rights. EPIC further alleges that the body scanner program violates the Privacy Act because it creates a system of records containing air travelers' personally identifiable information.

EPIC has asked the court to review the TSA's actions and to suspend the full body scanner program.

11. What is EPIC's goal in filing this lawsuit?

EPIC wants the DC Circuit Court to suspend the full body scanner program and to review the TSA's failure to collect public comments on the FBS program and failure to suspend the full body scanner program when petitioned to do so by EPIC.

12. What other steps has EPIC taken to prevent the implementation of full body scanners?

EPIC has been tracking this program since the TSA first began testing full body scanners in 2005. EPIC took action in 2009, after the TSA announced that it would begin requiring passengers to submit to full body imaging.

On April 14, 2009, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the DHS seeking documents supporting EPIC's suspicion that the full body scanners were designed to capture and store images of the people scanned, despite claims by DHS and TSA to the contrary. Through its FOIA efforts, EPIC obtained documents proving the machines' ability to store, record and transfer images. EPIC also obtained numerous traveler complaints regarding the intrusive nature of the FBS machines.

On May 31, 2009, EPIC, along with more than two dozen organizations, asked the TSA to accept public comment on the plan to deploy full body scanners. When the DHS failed to address EPIC's petition, EPIC filed a second petition, on April 21, 2010, urging the federal agency to suspend the full body scanner program due to Constitutional, statutory, health, and effectiveness concerns.

In March 2010, EPIC testified before Congress on the problems with the body scanner program.

13. Where can I find more information on EPIC's efforts?

You can find more information on what EPIC is doing to prevent the implementation of body scanners on the following EPIC pages or by following the stories on EPIC's homepage:

You can also subscribe to the EPIC Alert, EPIC's biweekly newsletter.

14. What can I do to help EPIC's cause?

There are a number of ways you can help EPIC fight the implementation of full body scanners at airports across the U.S.:

DONATE: EPIC is a public interest research center that cannot continue its groundbreaking work in protecting privacy without your support.

JOIN the Facebook Group "All Facebook Against Airport Full Body Scanners" and INVITE friends

REPORT your experience with full body scanners to EPIC.

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