TSA trading body-scanning machines for less revealing ones
The Transportation Security Administration said on Friday it is removing almost 200 body-scanning machines from airport checkpoints — including five in Pittsburgh — because the manufacturer could not make the images they produce of travelers' bodies less revealing.
Rapiscan Systems, maker of the so-called backscatter machines, told the TSA it will not meet a congressional deadline to recalibrate scanners to generate generic images of passengers' bodies that resemble chalk etchings.
The machines generated privacy complaints and late-night TV jokes because they produce detailed images of bodies beneath clothing that resemble blurry photo negatives. Some groups complained because the machines produce low levels of radiation, though TSA has insisted they are not dangerous to employees or passengers. One trip through a backscatter machine exposes people to about the same amount of radiation as two to three minutes of flying in an airplane, officials said.
The goal of the machines, first installed in Phoenix in 2007, was to find more hidden weapons or explosives.
Sharon DeWitt, 62, of Morgantown, W.Va., said the backscatter machines make her uncomfortable, but she has found a way to cope.
“I close my eyes and go into another realm of my mind when I go through them. I figure if I close my eyes, they can't see me and I can't see them,” DeWitt said before boarding a flight at Pittsburgh International Airport, which began using the machines in November 2010.
At the same time, DeWitt said, “If it keeps people safe, then I'm willing to put up with it.”
Randi Sigal, 53, of O'Hara said she's also willing to give up a little privacy for safety. “I figure if someone's going to look at my body, so be it,” she said.
TSA said the change wasn't tied to complaints.
“TSA has strict requirements that all vendors must meet for security effectiveness and efficiency,” the TSA said.
The TSA said Rapiscan will absorb the cost of removing the 174 machines from airports across the country and 76 more that are warehoused in Texas, along with the cost of replacement machines made by another manufacturer.
The replacements — which will be in place by June — use electromagnetic waves to detect items concealed under a passenger's clothing. A screen beside the machine highlights any items that require further screening on a generic outline of a person that is identical for all passengers. If no items are detected, the screen simply says “OK” and no image appears.
With the backscatter, a TSA officer views images of all passengers from a private room and relays information about any items that require further screening to another officer posted at the machine.
The replacement machines cost about $180,000 apiece, the TSA said. That could run Rapiscan more than $30 million, but the TSA said it's not known whether the agency will replace all 174 backscatter machines installed at airports.
Deepak Chopra, president and CEO of OSI Systems Inc., the parent company of Torrance, Calif.-based Rapiscan, called the agreement with TSA “mutually satisfactory,” and said it will offer the discarded machines to other government agencies that want them.
Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Reversing the field: Pirates continue to raid Yankees for hidden skill
- Former Pa. Gov. Corbett: From pension critic to collector
- Injuries to Penguins’ Ehrhoff, Letang force defense to pick up slack
- Mon Valley schools honored for commitment to music education
- Responsibility for sinkhole near Glassport remains uncertain
- Ligonier doctor’s appeal to practice rejected
- Steelers’ Tomlin, Pirates’ Hurdle share similar philosophy
- Five is enough for Penguins’ defensemen
- Pirates notebook: Locke the choice to be 5th starter
- McKeesport man: My ex-girlfriend ‘attempted to run me over’; she says he hit her and she panicked
- Pgh. International leader strives to inject Pittsburgh flavor into airport