Whole Body Imaging Technology and Body Scanners (“Backscatter” X-Ray and Millimeter Wave Screening)
EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of bodyscanners at US airports, pending an independent review. Body scanners produce detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals. Security experts have described whole body scanners as the equivalent of “a physically invasive strip-search.” The Transportation Security Administration operates the body scanner devices at airports throughout the United States. On July 2, 2010, EPIC filed a petition for review and motion for an emergency stay, urging the District of Columbia Court of Appeals to suspend the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) full body scanner program. EPIC said that the program is “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective.” EPIC argued that the federal agency has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Fourth Amendment. EPIC cited the invasive nature of the devices, the TSA’s disregard of public opinion, and the impact on religious freedom.
Post-September 11, airline travel security has invoked the increased use of technology and better training of security personnel as a means of improving travel security. Some of these proposals, such as improved training for airport screeners, checking all bags for bombs, strengthening cockpit doors, and placing air marshals on flights, do not implicate privacy interests and are sound security measures. Others, however, present privacy and security risks to air travelers because they might create data files directly linked to the identity of air travelers. These files if retained could provide the basis for a database of air traveler profiles. The Transportation Security Administration utilizes two technologies to capture naked images of air travelers – backscatter x-ray technology and millimeter wave technology.
In 1895 x-rays1 were discovered by Wilhelm Röntgen.2 This discovery of how to look through an object to observe details beneath has advanced to include new techniques. One such technique called “backscatter” X-Ray is based on “the emergence of radiation from that surface of a material through which it entered. Also used to denote the actual backscattered radiation.3“
The application of this new x-ray technology to airport screening uses high energy x-rays that are more likely to scatter than penetrate materials as compared to lower-energy x-rays used in medical applications. Although this type of x-ray is said to be harmless it can move through other materials, such as clothing.
A passenger is scanned by rastering or moving a single high energy x-ray beam rapidly over their form. The signal strength of detected backscattered x-rays from a known position then allows a highly realistic image to be reconstructed. Since only Compton scattered x-rays4 are used, the registered image is mainly that of the surface of the object/person being imaged. In the case of airline passenger screening it is her nude form. The image resolution of the technology is high, so details of the human form of airline passengers present privacy challenges.
Airport security has undergone significant changes since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Recently, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced a proposal to purchase and deploy “Whole Body Imaging” X-ray machines to search air travelers at all airports. TSA said it believes that use of the machines is less invasive than pat-down searches. However, these machines, which show detailed images of a person’s naked body, are equivalent to a “digital strip search” for all air travelers. This proposal, along with the agency’s controversial plan to profile air travelers, shows extraordinary disregard for the privacy rights of air travelers. The Department of Homeland Security is requesting $72 million to invest in detection systems, which includes funding for the backscatter machines, which cost between $100,000 and $200,000 each.
The backscatter machines use high-energy X-rays that are more likely to scatter than penetrate materials as compared to lower-energy X-rays used in medical applications. Although this type of X-ray is said to be harmless, it can move through other materials, such as clothing. When being screened, a passenger is scanned by high-energy X-ray beam moving rapidly over her body. The signal strength of detected backscattered X-rays from a known position then allows a highly realistic image to be reconstructed. In the case of airline-passenger screening, the image is of the traveler’s nude form. The image resolution of the technology is high, so the picture of the body presented to screeners is detailed enough to show genitalia. These images are not necessarily temporary – screeners can save the body images to the system’s hard disk or floppy disk for subsequent viewing on either “the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics.”
Backscatter X-Rays and Transportation Screening
The Transportation Security Administration claims that is not storing detailed images of passengers screened by the system. The agency also states that it is providing a screening option for passengers who object to screening by the technology. However, the technology is designed to accomplish what has been described on this page, and until the process of assuring that the claims of the agency are enforced–questions will remain about the use of the technology. EPIC will make available on this page aviation security and privacy –related documents it obtains from the government under the Freedom of Information Act law about the adoption of “backscatter” x-ray technology intended for use in screening air travelers.
The stated goal of these new proposals is to rely on technology to reduce the “hassle factor” in airports and to reduce security threats. The core idea is to focus security resources on suspicious travelers, while ensuring that most people are not inconvenienced by heightened security. Terrorists, however, have been known to go to great lengths to look like most people. Will a technology that will capture detailed images of potentially all airline travel passengers lead to greater safety? Current technology can successfully detect dangerous substances, firearms and other weapons without backscatter x-ray imaging of passengers. Can the goal of safe air travel be reached without reproducing a digital image of a passenger’s body? It has long been recognized by security experts that it is impossible to eliminate all threats to airline travel. Is the application of “backscatter” x-ray technology a deterrent and not a solution to perfect airline travel safety? If this is true, then is the trade off in passenger privacy worth the effort to deter terrorists? The application of security technology and increased passenger screening has also resulted in an increased detection of non-violent criminal offenses. Is the application of “backscatter” x-ray technology to screen airline passengers more than just a means of detecting terrorists?
In 2009, the TSA announced that Whole Body Imaging would replace metal detectors at airport security check points. This is a marked departure from the earlier promises by the agency that the technology would only be used for secondary screening of air travel passengers.
Airports Currently Using Whole Body Imagaing Technology
- Albuquerque International Sunport Airport
- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
- Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport
- Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
- Denver International Airport
- Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
- Detroit Metro Airport
- Indianapolis International Airport
- Jacksonville International Airport
- McCarran International Airport
- Los Angeles International Airport
- Miami International Airport
- Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport
- Raleigh-Durham International Airport
- Richmond International Airport
- San Francisco International Airport
- Salt Lake City International Airport
- Tampa International Airport
- Tulsa International Airport
Jan. 2010 NPC Event Materials
- How I Got Through Airport Security with No I.D, Anita Allen, The Daily Beast, November 25, 2008
- Privacy Stays Home This Year: The Moralist, Anita Allen, The Star-Ledger, December 10, 2006
- Who’s in Big Brother’s Database?, James Bamford, The New York Times, November 5, 2009
- Nude Awakening, The New Republic, Jeffrey Rosen, February 10, 2010
- Opposing View: Uniquely Intrusive Devices, Marc Rotenberg, USA Today, January 12, 2010
- Our Reaction Is the Real Security Failure, Bruce Schneier, AOL News, January 7, 2010
- Stop the Panic on Air Security, Bruce Schneier, CNN, January 7, 2010
- Sen. Rand Paul Introduces Air Travelers’ “Bill of Rights”, Richard Simon, L.A. Times, June 19, 2012.
- TSA’s New Scanner Technology Questioned, Jessica Meyers, Politico, June 19, 2012.
- TSA Full-body Scanners at Airports Pose Little Risk, Study Finds, Hugo Martin, L.A. Times, June 10, 2012.
- Homeland Security Concedes Airport Body Scanner ‘Vulnerabilities’, David Kravets, Wired, May 7, 2012.
- GOP Report: TSA Hasn’t Improved Aviation Security, Ashley Halsey III, Washington Post, November 16, 2011.
- Court OKs Airport Scanners, Rejects Constitutional Challenge, David Kravets, Wired, July 15, 2011.
- Homeland Security Looked Into Covert Body Scans, Thomas Frank, USA Today, March 4, 2011.
- DHS Denies Plans for Expanded Use of Body Scanners, Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld, March 3, 2011.
- TSA debuts new scanner software, The Washington Post Blog, Feb. 1, 2011.
- Jesse Ventura files lawsuit against TSA, Homeland Security over body scanners, pat-down searches, NY Daily News, Jan. 25, 2011.
- Feds Say Airport Body Scanners are ‘Minimally Intrusive’, Wired.com, Dec. 23, 2010.
- Full-body scanners: Exposing issues of privacy, and body image, The Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2010.
- Harvard Students Challenge TSA, Katie Johnston Chase, Boston.com, December 2, 2010
- Are TSA Tactics Constitutional? An Advocacy Group Sues to Find Out, Howard Portnoy, Hot Air, November 29, 2010.
- The TSA Is Invasive, Annoying, and Unconstitutional, Jeffrey Rosen, Washington Post, November 28, 2010.
- Administration to Seek Balance in Airport Screening, Scott Shane, New York Times, November 21, 2010.
- Protest Over Airport Body Scanners, Press Association, November 21, 2010.
- Obama Says Understands Ire Over Airport Screenings, Julie Pace, Associated Press, November 20, 2010.
- Ron Paul Introduces the American Traveler Dignity Act, E. D. Kain, Washington Examiner, November 19, 2010.
- Incoming Speaker Takes Commercial Flight, but Skips the Pat Down, Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, November 19, 2010.
- Lawmakers Jump Late into Airport-Scanner Uproar, Carol Pucci, Seattle Times, November 19, 2010.
- New York Lawmakers Try to Ban Body Scanners From Airports, Amar Toor, Switched, November 19, 2010.
- TSA Pat-Downs ‘Overly Intrusive,’ Key Lawmakers Say, Alan Levin, USA Today, November 19, 2010.
- Pilots to be Exempt from Airport Scanners, Intrusive Pat-Downs, Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, November 19, 2010.
- Pat-Downs at Airports Prompt Complaints, Susan Stellin, New York Times, November 18, 2010.
- Nader: TSA is Delivering Naked Insecurity, Ralph Nader, USA Today, November 18, 2010.
- U.S. Must Improve Traveler Privacy After Pat-Down Backlash, Lawmaker Says, John Hughes, Bloomberg News, November 17, 2010.
- ‘Sully’ Joins Opposition to Heightened Airport Security Measures, CNN, November 17, 2010.
- Body Scanners, Pat-Downs Violate Law and Privacy, Marc Rotenberg, CNN, November 17, 2010.
- Napolitano ‘Open’ to Fliers’ Gripes Over Screening, Charisse Jones, USA Today, November 17, 2010.
- TSA Backlash Grows Over Leaked Body Scans, Many Other Scandals, Max Fisher, The Atlantic, November 16, 2010.
- Screening Protests Grow as Holiday Crunch Looms, Joe Sharkey, New York Times, November 15, 2010.
- Oceanside Man Challenges Airport’s Full-Body Scan, Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2010.
- Growing Backlash Against TSA Body Scanners, Pat-Downs, Phil Gast, CNN, November 14, 2010.
- ‘Invasive’ Airport Screening Stirs Backlash Among Airline Passengers, Stephen Clark, Fox News, November 12, 2010.
- Ralph Nader and EPIC Take On Full-Body Airport Scanners, Neal Ungerleider, Fast Company, November 8, 2010.
- Airline Pilots Boycott Full Body Scanners, Sara Yin, PC Magazine, November 8, 2010.
- Group Slams Airport Naked Body Scanners, Dan Goodin, The Register, November 3, 2010.
- New Uproar over Security Scanners After Agency Acknowledges Storing Images Mary Forgione, Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2010.
- Group Concerned Airport Security Scanners Capture Nearly Naked Images, NBC, August 5, 2010.
- Feds Admit They Stored Body Scanner Images, Despite TSA Claim the Images Cannot be Saved, Aliyah Shahid, New York Daily News, August 4, 2010.
- Lawsuit Challenges Airport Full-Body Scanners, Katie Johnston Chase, The Boston Globe, August 4, 2010.
- Body Scan Images From Security Checkpoints Were Saved By Feds, Bianca Bosker, Huffington Post, August 4. 2010.
- Feds Admit Storing Body Scan Images, Declan McCullagh, CNET, August 4, 2010.
- Logan Airport Looks Forward to Less Revealing Scanners, Donna Goodison, Boston Herald, July 16, 2010.
- Backlash grows against full-body scanners in airports, Gary Stoller, USA Today, July 13, 2010.
- Privacy Group Files Lawsuit to Block Airport Body Scanners, Roger Yu, USA Today, July 9, 2010.
- Full-body security scanners scrapped at Dubai airports, officials say the device “contradicts Islam”, Aliah Shahid, New York Daily News, July 6, 2010.
- Full-body scanners could pose cancer risk at airports, U.S. scientists warn, Ben Mutzabaugh, USA Today, July 1, 2010.
- ,Sikh concerns delay hand search plans at UK airports, Dil Neiyyar, BBC News, June 30, 2010.
- Rights Panel Urges Ban on Body Scanners, Bae Hyun-jung, Korea Herald, June 30, 2010.
- Body Scanners Violation of Privacy, Elham Asaad Buaras, The Muslim News, June 25, 2010.
- European commission is fence-sitting on body scanners, Sarah Ludford, The Guardian, June 24, 2010.
- US Outstrips Europe on Body Scanners, Valentina Pop, Business Week, June 23, 2010.
- Miami Airport Screener Accused of Attack After Jeers at Genitals, Dan Ovalle, Miami Herald, May 7, 2010.
- Airport Worker Warned in Scanner Ogling Claim, Michael Holden, Reuters, March 24, 2010.
- Scanners may not have detected alleged explosive in Detroit jet case, GAO reports, By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, March 18, 2010
- Travelers file complaints over TSA body scanners, Jaikumar Vijayan, Business Week, March 8, 2010
- Muslim woman refuses body scan at airport, Will Pavia, London Times Online, March 3, 2010
- Suspend airport body scanner program, privacy groups say, Jaikumar Vijayan, Computerworld, February 26, 2010
- Airport body scanners have critics, including Pope, Julie Johnsson, Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2010
- Airport-security plan calls for 500 body scanners in ’11, Thomas Frank, USA TODAY, February 3, 2010
- European Union Puts Off Reply to U.S. Body Scanner Request, AFP, January 21, 2010
- Body Scanners Risk Right to Privacy Says UK Watchdog, BBC, January 20, 2010
- The Body Scanner Scam, The Wall Street Journal, January 18, 2010
- The Fight Against Full-Body Scanners in Airports, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2010
- Mixed Signals on Airport Scanners, The New York Times, January 12, 2010
- Body Scanners Can Store, Send Images, Group Says, CNN, January 11, 2010
- European Response Mixed to New U.S. Security Demands, Business Week, January 4, 2010
- Schiphol Buys 60 Body Scanners, Denies Lax Security, Reuters, January 4, 2010
- New Scanners Break Child Porn Laws, The Guardian, January 4, 2010
- TSA Tries to Assuage Passengers’ Concerns About Full Body Scans, The Washington Post, January 4, 2010
- Brown Gives Go-Ahead for Full Body Scanners at Britain’s Airports, The Guardian, January 4, 2010
- Former Homeland Security Chief Argues for Whole-Body Imaging, The Washington Post, January 1, 2010
- 150 More Full-Body Scanners to go in U.S. Airports, CNN, December 31, 2009
- Calls for Full-Body Scanners Re-Ignite Privacy Concerns, Fox News, December 31, 2009
- Dutch to Use Body Scanners, The Wall Street Journal, December 31, 2009
- U.K. Considers Body Scanners After Airline Attack, The Washington Post, December 31, 2009
- Body Scanners Not ‘Magic Technology’ Against Terror, CNN, December 31, 2009
- Wide Use of U.S. Airport Body Scanners Depends on Obama, Reuters, December 30, 2009
- Do Airport Imagers Invade Privacy, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 29, 2009
- No more getting naked for the TSA, The Examiner, May 20, 2009
- X-Ray Body Scanner Stirs Controversy, Fox Washington DC, May 18, 2009
- Airport scanners take ‘naked’ pics, group says, CNN.com, Monday, May 18, 2009
- Total Body Scans At Airports Cause Controversy, Kai Jackson, Channel 13 Baltimore, May 18, 2009
- Whole Body Imaging is Wholly FrighteningManolith.com, Monday, May 18, 2009
- Commentary: Whole-Body imaging invades privacy, CNN.com, May 19, 2009
- Privacy Advocates Take Issue With ‘Whole Body Imaging’Airport Security TechnologyAll Headline News, May 19, 2009
- Airport scanners take ‘naked’ pics, group says, CNN.com, Monday, May 18, 2009
- Airport body scans: An issue of privacy, The Windsor Star (Canadian), Tuesday, May 12, 2009
- Airport officials make plans to conduct virtual strip searches, Anice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service, May 6, 2009
- Scanner finds hidden objects, not flesh, David Copeland, Boston.com, April 27, 2009
- Herald Poll: Porn at the airport? Daily Herald, April 24, 2009
- Chaffetz wants ban on airport whole body imaging, ABC Channel 4 (Salt Lake City), April 22, 2009
- Deeper Digital Penetration, William Saletan, Slate, April 8, 2009
- TSA: Whole-body scanners to replace metal detectors, Sean O’Neill, Budget Travel, April 7, 2009
- Whole-Body Scans Pass First Airport Tests, Joe Sharkey, N.Y. Times, April 6, 2009
- Airport body scans reveal all, Jeremy Hsu, MSNBC, Apr. 1, 2009
- New security scan at DFW Airport has privacy advocates worried, Dallas Morning News, June 16, 2008
- TSA looks into using more airport body scans, Thomas Frank, USA Today, October 7, 2007
- Digital Penetration, William Saletan, Slate, Mar. 3, 2007
- Controversial X-ray machine to make national debut Friday at Sky Harbor, Associate Press, February 21, 2007
- Phoenix Airport to Test X-Ray Screening, Associate Press as reported on Privacy.org, December 1, 2006
- Body scan machines to be used on Tube passengers, Ben Webster, London Times, July 8, 2005
- Airport screeners could see X-rated X-Rays, Joe Sharkey, New York Times, May 24, 2005
- Airports roll out high-tech security, Thomas Frank, page 3A USA Today, May 16, 2005
- New Screening Technology Is Nigh , Ryan Single, Wired News, May 19, 2005
- TSA official says machine, not screeners, at fault, Bryon Okada, page 9A, Star-Telegram, May 1, 2005
- Airport plans to screen for explosives this fall Machines at D/FW, Michael Grabell page 5B, Dallas News, May 1, 2005
- Passenger Screening, Take 10, Ryan Single, Wired News, January 31, 2005
- ‘Nice Bombs Ya Got There’ , Associated Press, Wired News, June 26, 2003
- TSA awards passenger screening contract, Megan Lisagor, Federal Computer Week, March 10, 2003
- TSA prepares passenger screening system, Megan Lisagor, Federal Computer Week, February 26, 2003
- Smart Check-In Cuts Airport Lines, Wired News, February 5, 2001. [Trusted traveler schemes have been contemplated well before 9/11]
- White House Weekly Address January 2, 2010 (Concerning Security in Response to Christmas Day Terrorist Attack), January 2, 2010
- Privacy International: Privacy Impact Statement on Proposed Deployments of Body Scanners in Airports, December 31, 2009
- Article 29: The Data Protection Working Party of the European Commission: The Impact of the Use of Body Scanners… On Human Rights, Privacy, Personal Dignity, Health, and Data Protection, November 2, 2009
- Article 29: The Data Protection Working Party of the European Commission: Whole Body Imaging, February 11, 2009
- TSA Whole Body Imaging Privacy Impact Assessment, October 17, 2008
- Committee on Assessment of Security Technologies for Transportation, National Research Council: Assessment of Millimeter Wave and Terahertz Technology for Detection and Identification of Concealed Explosives and Weapons, 2007
- EPIC’s Spotlight on Surveillance “…Plan to X-Ray Passengers” June 2005
- National Academy Seminar on Concealed Threat Detection, March 2, 2005.
- Airline Passenger Screening, Government Accounting Office, September 24, 2003
- Implementation of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act January 23, 2002
- Audit Reports on Aviation Security Office of Inspector General, Department of Transportation
- White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security Web page.
- EPIC’s National ID Web page.
- EPIC’s Face Recognition Web page.
- EPIC’s Terrorism Web page.
- EPIC’s new page on Surveillance of European Air Travelers.
- Gilmore v. Ashcroft – FAA ID Challenge.
- Aviation Security Biometrics Working Group [see Steering Committee Analysis for detailed information on proposed biometric identification schemes].
- Maximus Flysecure proposal
- Trading Freedom for Security. The New American Magazine, May 5, 2003.
- EPIC’s new Passenger Profiling page.
- Air Security Focusing on Flier Screening. Washington Post, September 4, 2002.
- Intricate Screening Of Fliers In Works. Washington Post, Feb. 1, 2002.
- Carnival Booth: An Algorithm for Defeating the Computer-Assisted Passenger Screening System. MIT/Harvard Law School Student paper.
- Electronic Record Systems and Individual Privacy. U.S. Congress Office of Technical Assessment OTA-CIT-296.
- House Transportation Hearing on Airline Passenger Profiling. Feb. 27, 2002.
- ACLU Passenger Profiling Complaint Form
- Letter to Vice President Gore, White House Commission on Aviation Safety
- Image of a person scanned using a new x-ray device from AS&E.
- National Academy of Sciences report “Airline Passenger Security Screening: New Technologies and Implementation Issues“.
- Paper on the limitations of profiling, Roger Clark, Australia National University.
- ACLU testimony before White House Commission on “Civil Liberties Implications of Airport Security Measures” (September 5, 1996).
- Letter to Privacy Journal editor Robert Ellis Smith from the FAA denying Smith’s request for a copy of the FAA Security Directive on identification of airline passengers.
- HotWired article “Fear of Flying” on proposals. (September 11, 1996).
Other Airline Passenger Screening Resources
- FAA Proposes Profiling Regulations. The Federal Aviation Administration published proposed regulations on April 19, 1999, governing “Security of Checked Baggage on Flights Within the United States.” The draft rules detail the use of computer profiling techniques to identify suspicious passengers.
- Airline Passenger Profiling Goes Into Effect. The Computer Assisted Passenger Screening System was scheduled to be phased in nationwide beginning on January 1. Under the system, passengers who “fit the profile” will be selected for heightened security measures, which can include a thorough search of their luggage, intrusive personal questioning, tagging of luggage with orange tape, and a physical escort from the check-in counter to the airport gate by security personnel. The ACLU is providing an online complaint form for passengers targeted by the profiling system.
- Microsoft Chief Architect Charles Simonyi tells what happens when you “fit the profile” (from Slate).
- Proposed FAA rule for collecting personal information including name, address, Social Security Number, Date of birth and next of kin for every domestic passenger.
- General Account Office report, Aviation Safety and Security: Challenges to Implementing the Recommendations of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security (Testimony, 03/05/97, GAO/T-RCED-97-90).
- The Gore Commission has released its final report recommending passenger profiling. A coalition of 17 groups has sent a letter to Gore opposing ID checks, profiling, new x-ray technologies and excessive secrecy by the FAA in making decisions.
HR 1271. FAA Research, Engineering, and Development Authorization Act of 1997. Funds FAA projects for new surveillance technologies such as advanced x-ray systems for individuals. Introduced on 4/10/97 by Morella (R-Md). Referred to the House Committee on Science. Approved by Committee 4/16/97. Reported to the House H. Rept. 105-61 (CR H1714) on 4/21/97. Measure adopted on 4/29/97, RC #95 (414-7), (CR H1995). Referred to Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (CR S3843) on 4/30/97.
Bill Passed the Senate: 11/13/1997
Mr. Sensenbrenner moved that the House suspend the rules and agree to the Senate amendments: 2/3/1998
Bill Passed the House by a voice vote: 2/3/1998 3:07pm:
Bill Signed into Law by President Clinton: 2/11/1998
Became Public Law No: 105-155.