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TSA dumps some airport body scanners

Published January 18, 2013 5:16 pm

Security • SLC airport has already removed all of the machines.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Transportation Security Administration said Friday that it is dumping one type of airport body scanner that creates images so revealing that Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, once said they amounted to being strip-searched.

Such low-dose X-ray machines have already been removed from Salt Lake City International Airport and have been on their way out of other major airports for months, in slow motion.

The government hadn't bought any since 2011. It quietly removed them from seven major airports in October, including New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, Chicago's O'Hare, and Los Angeles International.

The TSA moved a handful of the X-ray scanners to very small airports.

In 2011, the Salt Lake City airport switched to a different type of "millimeter wave" scanner made by L-3 Communications that generates a cartoon-like outline of a passenger that marks spots where metal or plastic is detected. If no items are found after a closer check, it flashes a green screen with the word "OK."

On Friday, TSA issued a statement saying it terminated a contract with Rapiscan, maker of the X-ray or "backscatter" scanners that produced a "nude" image, because it will be unable to deploy less revealing images in time for a June deadline set by Congress. TSA will also remove remaining Rapiscan machines.

"By June 2013 travelers will only see machines which have ATR [Automated Target Recognition software used by less graphic machines] that allow for faster throughput" at security checkpoints, a TSA release said.

"As always, use of this technology is optional," TSA said, but refusal to use it when directed to do so could lead to a thorough pat-down instead.

When body scanners were first introduced, they essentially showed travelers naked — and images were viewed privately by officers in a nearby room who communicated by radio with officers at the machines. TSA argued the machines could find both metallic and nonmetallic items such as plastic explosives, but were controversial because they showed every other detail of the traveler's body.

Chaffetz was among those who led the charge in Congress against such body scanners — which came after a 2009 incident at the Salt Lake City International Airport.

Chaffetz said agents pulled him out of a line for a regular metal detector and tried to get him to go through a body scanner instead. When he refused, he was given a long, thorough pat-down. He then complained to supervisors, which turned into a confrontation. He and TSA officials disagree about how heated and physical it became.

"You don't have to look at my wife and 8-year-old daughter naked to secure an airplane," Chaffetz once told the House during a debate about whether to ban such scanners.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.