The TSA has been getting a lot of flack for its new scanners, particularly for the fact that you can't opt out of them. So what's all this talk about privacy protections and being scanned naked? Read on to find out.
The short answer is yes, the TSA can see your naked body with their x-rays. The long answer is a bit more complicated, but let's start with this: there are three different types of scanners used by the TSA--backscatter x-ray machines, millimeter wave scanners and full-body scanners.
The backscatter x-ray machine uses low energy waves to create an image of your body that looks like an old school photograph (think black & white):
Millimeter wave scanners use high frequency radio waves instead:
Full-body imagers combine both technologies into one machine:
The backscatter x-ray machine is a full body scanner that uses low levels of radiation to create an image of the body. It's used by the TSA at airports in the United States, but has been criticized for its use of radiation and privacy concerns.
The backscatter x-ray machine works by sending electromagnetic waves through your body and onto a sensor plate behind you, which then creates an image based on those waves (this is called "backscattering"). Most people won't feel anything during this process; however, if you have metal implants or pins in your body, there's a chance they could be detected by the machine as well!
The backscatter X-ray machines, which are used in more than 150 airports across the country, have been touted as safe by the TSA. But critics say they expose travelers to potentially harmful levels of radiation and that they're ineffective at catching weapons or explosives (the government has disputed this).
The machine works by emitting low levels of X-rays that pass through clothing but bounce off anything else in their path. The resulting image looks like an outline of your body--and whatever else is hidden underneath your clothes: guns, knives, explosives and more!
The TSA says it only looks at images of objects, not people. The agency also claims to have privacy protections in place to prevent abuse.
The agency deletes the images after a few days and doesn't keep them on file, so there's no way for someone else (like an airport employee) to access them later.
If you don't want to be scanned by the TSA, ask for a pat-down instead.
You can request a pat-down if:
Yes, the TSA scanners can see you naked. They're not actually trying to see you naked--they're just looking for concealed weapons, explosives and other dangerous materials. And if you want to be seen naked by a machine? Well then sure! Why not?
The truth is that there are a lot of reasons why someone wouldn't want their entire body scanned by a machine like this. Maybe they have an embarrassing medical condition or some kind of scarring from surgery that they'd rather keep private; maybe they're just shy about their body; maybe they're transgender and don't feel comfortable being gawked at by strangers while naked (and yes: it happens).
If you're not at the airport, don't worry. The TSA says that it doesn't have the authority to use full body scanners on people who are not flying. They do use them at airports, but only if they decide that a passenger needs extra screening after going through other security measures such as metal detectors and bag checks.
If you're at an airport and want to avoid being scanned by one of these machines, there are two ways to do so: request a pat-down search or ask for a private screening. Both options require more time than simply walking through one of these machines (though how much more depends on each individual situation), but they provide better privacy protection than being seen naked by strangers in front of dozens of people waiting behind you--and let's not forget those cameras recording everything!
If you accidentally get scanned by a machine and are not comfortable with the results, it's a good idea to ask the TSA agent if you can opt out of the scanner. If so, they will pat down your body manually instead. This process might take longer than going through a scanner but it's better than being scanned naked!
If you choose to opt out of using the TSA scanner because of privacy concerns or other reasons, there is no penalty for doing so--but remember that doing so could cause delays in getting through airport security lines since there are fewer staff members available for pat downs (and those who do perform pat downs also have other tasks).
If you're worried about your private parts being seen, don't be. Unless you decide to ask for a pat-down or opt out of the body scanner altogether, there's no way that TSA agents can see anything below your waist.
If you do choose to go through a pat-down, however--which is likely if you're going through airport security because of some kind of medical condition or disability--there are ways to avoid being touched in sensitive areas like your breasts and genitals: ask for an agent who's trained in dealing with people who have been sexually assaulted; request that they use two hands instead of one; and/or request privacy during the screening process (you can ask them not to touch certain parts).
We hope this article has helped you understand more about the TSA scanners and how they work. If you're still concerned about privacy, the best thing to do is ask for a pat-down instead of going through the scanner. The TSA claims there are protections in place to prevent abuse, but we don't know if those protections will actually work as promised or not--and even if they do, there's still no guarantee that someone won't abuse them anyway! In any case, we at least know that there are other ways besides opting out of airport security altogether (which may not be an option if travelling internationally).