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Editorial: December 10, 2010

Byline: Xiaomeng Li

Posted: December 12, 2010

TSA’s Full-Body Scanner and Pat-Downs Raise Controversy Among Travelers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has become a frequent subject of debate on the Internet and in the news recently. The debate is mainly about the full-body scan machines and the pat-downs at the airport security check.

Early this year, according to TSA, it "began deploying 450 advanced imagine technology units, which were purchased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds." Nevertheless, the issue escalated since TSA, on Oct. 28, 2010, put up a short announcement saying that it was "implementing new pat-down procedures at checkpoints nationwide as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe."

However, what the TSA website does not mention about the security check is that when going through the full-body scanner, the passenger's image on the screen is almost naked to the machine operator, except the face is blurred.

So what is this full-body scanner? TSA calls it "Advanced Imaging Technology"on its website. According to TSA, they currently implement two types of imaging technology—the millimeter wave and backscatter: "[t]his technology can detect a wide range of threats to transportation security in a matter of seconds to protect passengers and crews."

Since March 2010, TSA started to implement 450 Advanced Imaging Technology units around the United States. Backlash soon came out to oppose this new technology. is one of the groups that oppose the full-body scanners. They call it the "porno-scanner" and call for people to "stop flying until the scanners are replaced with real security." To the protestors, the primary concern is that the full-body scanner violates their privacy. On Nov. 16, according to The New York Times, two pilots filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, claiming that the new screening procedures violate Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

Another concern from the protestors is the health risk of the full-body scanners. Another website,, points out that, "Backscatter X-ray uses ionizing radiation, a known cumulative health hazard, to produce images of passengers bodies."And for the millimeter wave technology, this Web site says that, "if improperly calibrated can cause burns."Moreover, it also addresses that there is a lack of testing and research information on the potential risks of this technology. However, TSA says on its website that, "Advanced Imaging Technology screening is safe for all passengers, and the technology meets national health and safety standards."

You now have the choice to go through the enhanced pat-downs instead of the full-body scanners. However, chances are you will probably feel surprised, shocked or even "intimidated,"as said by The New York Times, by the level of intimacy of this procedure as it involves a screener giving a firm patting to women's breasts and all travelers' genitals.

Security is definitely a crucial part of our travels. Ever since September 11, 2001, the security at airports has been intensified. In fact, security at the airports is undoubtedly the strictest among all the transportation in the U.S.

Some passengers are in favor of this full-body scan because it is effective to detect and prevent dangerous items from boarding the plane and endanger the lives of the passengers. Also, the operator of the machine actually sits in a private room which ensures the privacy of the passenger's image.

Honestly, I was not very offended by the full-body scanner at first because to me, it is essential for the airport to ensure an environment that is free from any hazard for the passengers. Thus, I would comply with any security check since it makes me feel safe enough to be on a flight. However, after digging into the debate, I started to question who gives the airport the permission to check the passenger's naked body. Just because we paid for the ticket and service does not mean we sell ourselves to have no privacy under the security check. Also, what makes me unsatisfied the most is that TSA lacks detailed information or disclaimer about the exposure of human body in the full-body scan, the extent to which the pat-downs are conducted and the poll it posts on the website that says, "over 99 percent of passengers choose to be screened by this technology over alternative screening procedures" is probably partial as far as I see.

So what do you think? As this semester comes to an end, many of you may need to take an airplane and go home for the holidays. Would you feel comfortable going through either of the security checks? Go to and share your opinion with us.

Last Updated: October 20, 2011