TSA Removes Old Body Scanners from Airports

The "backscatter" X-ray machines are being replaced with new, more efficient body scanners

By Monica Garske, Tony Shin and Nicole Gonzales
|  Saturday, Oct 20, 2012  |  Updated 1:43 PM PDT
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The TSA is in the process of removing older-model body scanners from airports and replacing them with more efficient, less invasive scanners. NBC 7's Nicole Gonzales reports.

The TSA is in the process of removing older-model body scanners from airports and replacing them with more efficient, less invasive scanners. NBC 7's Nicole Gonzales reports.

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Those older-model, controversial body scanners at many airports across the nation may soon be a thing of the past.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is in the process of removing some of those scanners – and replacing them with different scanners.

The bulky, so-called “backscatter” scanners have faced some tough criticism from travelers since the TSA began rolling them out nationwide a few years ago.

The criticism mostly stems from concerns over increased radiation and privacy issues.

Over the past few weeks, the machines have been plucked from some major airports including LAX, Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and JFK to make room for machines designed to be more efficient.

According to TSA officials, the decision to remove the original X-Ray scanners has nothing to do with health concerns over radiation or privacy, but rather to speed up security checkpoints at larger airports across the nation.

American travelers first started seeing the “backscatter” body scanners after the foiled “underwear bombing” attempt on a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day back in 2009.

The TSA said the new replacement machines – known as “millimeter-wave scanners” – are more sophisticated than the old airport X-Ray machines. They can detect potential threats automatically, using a computer program, which also displays less invasive images of the traveler’s body than the old backscatter machines.

The new machines rely on low-energy radio waves similar to a cell phone. Instead of an X-ray image of a traveler, the machine will display a cartoon-like figure.

But while the new machines may be more efficient not everyone approves of them, including International Security and Aviation expert Glen Winn, who said the move to replace the machines with the newer alternative is not only costly, but is putting travelers in unnecessary danger.

"I find it very disturbing because you've spent hundreds of millions of dollars on equipment and now suddenly one day you're going to turn it off and try to move in new equipment. I don't find that practical number one, and number two how are you going to pull this off and get all these people retrained [on] that?” Winn told NBC 7.

On the other side of the scanner chatter, some local travelers told NBC 7 that they’re looking forward to the new machines – especially if it means shorter lines at the San Diego International Airport.

“I come here to San Diego and the line never ends. I cannot see the end of the line. This is ridiculous. It's totally inefficient,” said John Joseph while waiting at Lindbergh Field.

Other travelers hope the new scanners are well-researched and improve safety at the airport.

“I'm sure they're going to do studies. I'm sure they have our best interest in mind, but if they get us through quicker – [I] definitely like to hear that,” said San Diego traveler Hayes Magnuson.

TSA officials said some of the older model backscatter scanners will still be used at larger airports such as Lindbergh Field, but mainly, they’ll be relocated to smaller airports where there is less foot traffic.
 

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