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TSA and the Implementations of the Body Scanners in Airports Term Paper

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Updated: Nov 21st, 2019

After America suffered a terrorist attack in 2001, drastic changes were introduced in commercial airports across the world. In the U.S Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and use of full body scanners at airport checkpoints was introduced by the government.

Since then, passengers have to be scanned for threat items thoroughly before boarding a plane. The introduction of these new measures brought about mixed reaction from passengers. Although, most of the passengers approved the body scanning others felt it was violation of their privacy right. In the paper, how scanners work, has been discussed. The problem of violation of pivacy and strategy to solve it has also been discussed.


After the terrorist attacks of 2001, the US government had to respond on security measures done in airports (Chad, 42). In response to this the federal government developed new legislation, that is, Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA). This act led to the establishment of Transportation Security Administration which was to boost security within the US airports.

TSA had to recruit employees to supply all commercial airports with staff to improve security. Initially, TSA officials started with the use of private security screeners. During these initial stages of implementation, TSA was faced the problem of few staffs to screen passengers and their baggage.

After a few months, TSA officials started using fully body scanners on passengers. These scanners improved the security checkup efficiency greatly as they could scan things which cannot be identified by other scanners. These scanners show the image of a person naked without clothes.

These scanners thus have made it easier and quicker for TSA security officers to carry out thorough checkups on passengers. These fully body scanners have thus reduced significantly the long waits and queues experienced by passengers in commercial airports before.

Although, these scanners have with them a lot of advantages on bases of time and accuracy, a great concern on privacy of passengers have become an issue. The issue of privacy on passengers has become a major problem against the full body scanners. Although, majority of the passengers agree on use of full body scanners, a number still perceive it as violation of personal right.

This is because it portrays the naked features of a person. Another problem associated with full body scanners is the health risk of getting cancer. Although, there is not enough evidence to support the scanners to cause cancer, the radiations emitted from them pose a great risk. In the paper, discussion on how scanners work, problem of privacy and strategies to solve it are done.

How body scanners work?

There are different types of full body scanners used in the US commercial airports. The mainly used two include those based on backscatter X-ray technology and those which are based on millimeter wave technology. Backscatter uses X-ray scanners apply low power X-rays to illuminate a person’s body, forming an image from the generated reflection energy (Brain, 1).

This scanners work on the basis of the lower the atomic number, the stronger the reflection. This is because our human bodies contain low atomic number, the results is a bright image.

The other full body scanner type is the millimeter-wave technology. These scanners use short wavelength radio signals which are of a few millimeters (Brain, 1). The secret behind these scanners is that, these wavelength signals reflect strongly from conductive objects.

This makes metallic objects reflect strong as compared to our bodies which are relatively weak in moderating reflection. Thus, if a person is carrying a gun, the gun will show a more bright image as compared as to his body. This millimeter-wave technology is better than the backscatter X-ray scanners when it comes to health risks (Brain, 1).

This is because the millimeter-wave scanners expose people to very low radiation as compared to the backscatter scanners. This makes them not to likely cause skin cancer as compared to backscatter scanners. Though, their effectiveness in scanning metallic things, full body scanners have some negatives. It is feared that it is hard for them to detect liquid matters or things hidden below the skin.

Privacy Violation Problem

Introduction of full body scanners in commercial airports, though effective and quick have led to the problem of personal privacy violation. The full body scanners portray a person’s appearance which is hidden by clothes. They expose the private features and appearance of an individual which some people strongly feel is violation of their privacy right (Chad, 53). This has become a big challenge for TSA officials especially when passengers refuse the full body scanning to be done on them.

Those people, who oppose use of full body scanners to stripe passengers without any probable reason, see it as a violation of human right by the government. They argue that the government has no right to trespass the privacy of a person just to prevent the unknown (Bart, 5). These passengers feel that the government has gone too far when it made it a routine to be scanned in commercial airports.

Although, over 50 percent of passengers think it is a good idea and feels comfortable, a certain percentage of passengers feel uncomfortable and thus dislike the idea (Bart, 5). In some cases, it has been reported of some passengers opting to travel to evade the full body scanning.

The violation of privacy right is evident in some commercial airports where some TSA officers have been reported to use the scanned images as a form of pornography. When passengers get to know such kind of information, they will try to avoid the full body scanning by evading flying.

TSA officers have also been reported to harass passengers who want to retain their privacy by refusing to undergo through full body scanning. These passengers are given the option of pat-down procedure but which has become more intense and goes further not to exclude private parts.

Pat-down procedures have been changed so that those passengers not willing to undergo scanning will also be checked thoroughly. These pat-down are done by TSA officials of same sex as the passenger (Bart, 6). This is to enhance even checking of private parts for hidden weapons. These pat-down have gone too far such that TSA officials are allowed to use front part of their hands to check private parts of passengers. This has led to violation of a human right and seems as sexual assault.

Petitions against full body scanners have been taken to court with no avail. The courts have characterized routine checkups at airports as warrantless and which are not prohibited by the constitution (National Research Council, 23). This airport checking have been made no optional thus for those not willing to undergo them they should avoid flying. The court recently ruled the airport searches as reasonable and a passenger should not be allowed to avoid them.

This is because such a rule would encourage terrorists to attempt to penetrate security scanning. Thus, the court has allowed for no exception for passenger who do not want to undergo the full body scanning or the extensive pat-down. The courts have thus ignored the constitutional rights on personal privacy when it comes to checks in airports.

Strategy applied by TSA to stop violation of human right

Privacy issue about full body scanners has become a major problem for TSA with petitions against the scanners going to courts regularly. Airports have even reported a decrease of passengers in airports as they opt to travel and avoid the full body as well as baggage scanners.

These scanning processes and checkups by TSA consume a lot of time forcing passengers to arrive even two hours before departure. TSA has thus been forced to adopt the strategy of using burled images. This is enabled by use of millimeter-wave technology and pat-down searches (Bart, 6).

These millimeter-wave scanners have been developed not to show clear images of a naked person. They have been developed such that blur distinctive features like facial features are not recognized by scanners (Bart, 6). These filters also hinder a clear appearance of the passengers’ nakedness which prevents clear vision of their private body parts.

These millimeter-wave scanners are thus offering privacy to passengers as TSA scanners can only see burled images of passengers undergoing scanning. On the other hand, X-ray backscatter systems have been developed to apply computer algorithms. These computer algorithms portray images of passengers in a sketch form and still detect concealed weapons. These sketch images do not show body features of passengers clearly thus preventing their privacy.

The TSA has also set the scanners in a way that the screener checking on passengers cannot see the individual that was imaged. The screener is also based in an enclosed space which cannot be accessed by the public. The screening system is also set in a way to have no capacity for image storage or sharing. The screeners are also prohibited to have with them any image recording items like cameras. Therefore, images are deleted immediately a passenger has passed the screening process.

Currently, TSA is developing scanners which have the capability to identify threat items and respond automatically to them without necessary use of the whole body image (National Research Council, 87). Improvements on current scanners are underway with testing been done first.

These modifications will enable scanners to show images of generic figures with boxes identifying threats to screeners instead of portraying actual body images. TSA is thus making a big progress in ensuring passengers privacy is prevented while still efficiently scanning for threat items on passengers’ bodies.


Though the government has improved security in commercial airports within US, introduction of TSA and implementation of full body scanners has led to problems.

Although most of the passengers are happy about full body scanners and feel more secure when flying, some passengers has seen this as a violation of their human right. Use of full body scanners has thus brought about mixed reaction among passengers.

Court petitions against use of full body scanners have been ruled out even though they violate a constitutional right of personal privacy. TSA has thus taken it their responsibility to address the issue of privacy violation on passengers. TSA has applied the strategy of scanning passengers through use of burled images that do not reveal actual nakedness of passengers.

TSA has thus modified scanners to accommodate for privacy of passengers. By doing this, TSA will reduce scanning resistance from passengers as their privacy is protected. This will also encourage those passengers who have not been flying on fear of privacy violation and health risk to feel secure again to fly.

Works Cited

Bart, Elias. “.” Congressional Research Service. 26 Jan. 2011. Web.

Brain, M. . HowStuffWorks, Inc., 17 Nov. 2010. Web.

Chad, C. Homeland Security Department: FY 2011 Appropriations. Philadelphia: DIANE Publishing, 2011. Print.

National Research Council. Assessment of millimeter-wave and terahertz technology for detection and identification of concealed explosive and weapons. New York: National Academies Press, 2007.

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