Washington DC April 30 2019
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was testing a new body scanner system to screen passengers at U.S. airports, but it seems the system was too revealing.
The images that the equipment created were too invasive and would pose privacy risks, according to a contracting document Quartz discovered.
The new screening system was part of TSA’s aim to speed up screening at airports, but it lacked the privacy filters needed for visual images. The machine which is called TAC, is a “people-screening camera that sees any type of item—including metal, plastic, ceramic, gel, liquid, powder and paper—hidden in peoples’ clothing at distances of 3 to 10m,” or 10 to 32 feet.
As for how revealing is “too revealing,” Jay Stanley, an ACLU policy analyst, told Quartz, “The higher the resolution of the screen, the worse it is. It could be genitalia, it could be a colostomy bag.”
The manufacturer, ThruVision Inc. of Ashburn, Virginia, is said to be working on an “enhanced privacy software” to fix to the privacy issue.
The TSA has spent $662,840 on the system and the software fix is going to cost $250,000.
This isn’t the first time that the TSA has had privacy issues with their screening equipment. From 2007 to 2013, it was discovered that the TSA scanners were a “virtual strip search” that shared pictures of passengers’ genitalia, breasts, and buttocks with TSA employees. ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the TSA over these machines, and thanks to public outcry, the machines were replaced with less-intrusive scanners.
Bruce Schneier, a technologist and privacy expert who has studied airport security, seems wary of the reported software “fix.”
“There are lots of definitions of ‘fix,’” Schneier said. “Some work, some don’t.”