TSA Imaging Machines and Privacy

Latest news from the TSA:  “In March 2010, TSA began deploying 150 backscatter imaging technology units, which were purchased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Art (ARRA) funds. TSA plans to deploy a total of approximately 450 imaging technology units in 2010.”

Ok I am all about airline safety, whatever it takes to keep our sky’s safe.  Yet recently while going through security at Tampa International Airport, I was approached by this tall “30 something” male guard who told me I had been randomly selected for additional screening.  The officer pointed to this large metal and glass device and then asked would I like to be screened by the machine or step over to another area and be physically inspected by a female guard.  Being the naïve mother of two who doesn’t get out much, I stepped right up to this “James Bond”  like screening apparatus. Granted the “Transportation Security Administration began installing these state-of-the-art advanced imaging machines back in 2007” I of course was unaware of how the technology worked.

Later, I told my husband about the incident, he laughed and said you basically agreed to let the security guard see you naked.  Needless to say I was mortified…. then I was mad.  I understand the necessity for these types of machines with the ever increasing threats present in the world today…. but shouldn’t I have been screened by a female guard, and vice versa for a male passenger?  Shouldn’t a woman have been the one looking at my images?  I never did complain to the airport about my experience but I thought it might be worthwhile to give other women (and men) the heads up!
Next time you are going through security and have to pass through either a millimeter wave or backscatter imaging device, the two types of machines the TSA now uses, be sure to ask for the appropriate guard to do your screening! Like I said I am all about safety but I think a girl is entitled to a little privacy as well!



Margaret has lived, studied and worked in Rome, Italy and Paris, France; she has also traveled extensively throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, Africa and North America. Margaret currently resides with her husband and two sons in downtown Chicago.

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5 Responses

  1. John Herbert says:

    Margaret: I am never one to defend the TSA, who mess up more than they get it right, but SOP for this soft xray screening is that the screener viewing the passenger images is in a closed room where they cannot see the passengers or save the images. The guard you spoke to cannot see the images, and is only notified if you need further screening. In addition, the latest software blurs the images in the sensitive areas. However, there is no guarantee that the screeners at Tampa are not running amok. John

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks for your feedback. If that is the case I am quite relieved that the “30 something” male wasn’t viewing the screen. However, maybe they should have informed/disclosed to me what was occurring(the procedures), before I proceeded into the machine.
      Best Regards,
      PS What is SOP?

  2. Nicole says:

    Margaret, it means “standard operating procedure”

  3. jessica says:

    Actually, the TSA website says the faces are blurred, not all the sensitive parts.

  4. maria says:

    oh my god how terrible!

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