“Exposing” the TSA strip search machines

It is very rare that any media outlet summons the integrity to publish an article critical of the TSA.  After all, “they are there for our safety” and we all have to “think of the children” and “do everything possible to protect ourselves.”  Every now and then USA Today or CNN will have an article with a bit of bite to it but even those are generally tame.  Today CNN managed to publish a story online that calls into question one of the TSA’s new favorite technologies – millimeter wave imaging scans, also known as the strip search machines.

The machines render an image that clearly shows a passenger’s body – underneath their clothes.  It is a strip search, plain and simple.  And the TSA is using them as their primary means of searching passengers in at least six airports around the country and as an additional screening method in a dozen more.  This has happened without a clear and detailed explanation to the public of what they are about to endure and is, quite frankly, reprehensible.

My favorite part is that the TSA refuses to share with the public a full-size copy of what their screeners see when a passenger walks through the machine.  All we get to see are 300 pixel images that represent the results.  And even those are pretty clear views of the people in question.

The TSA has a great reply to those questioning the technology – “over 99 percent of passengers choose this technology over other screening options.”  Of course, since the TSA doesn’t tell the passengers what’s about to happen or what the alternatives are these numbers aren’t particularly surprising.  And they claim that the image viewed is “fuzzy.” But if it is fuzzy then how can they identify prohibited items?  It can’t be all that fuzzy.

The other interesting thing about the program is that in the locations where the strip searches are now the primary detection method the only alternative is to pass through a metal detector AND to receive a pat-down, even if there is no alarm raised from the metal detector.  So when I pass through Miami next week on my way home from Belize I get the luxury of choosing between a strip search or a groping.  Even better, I get to pay the government for my fun.  I think I will choose the groping.  For one thing, it will take TSA goons away from their otherwise sworn duty of standing around.  And for another, I might actually have some fun, too. 😉

Image courtesy of the TSA.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.