The Transportation Security Administration will remove airport body scanners that privacy advocates likened to strip searches after OSI Systems Inc. where unable to provide software to make passenger images less revealing.
TSA will end a $5 million contract with OSI’s Rapiscan unit for the software after Administrator John Pistole concluded the company couldn’t meet a congressional deadline to produce generic passenger images. 76 machines where removed from U.S. airports last year and the remaining 174 Rapiscan machines, are to shortly follow with the company absorbing the cost, said Karen Shelton Waters, the agency’s assistant administrator for acquisitions. The TSA will instead use 60 machines manufactured by L-3 Communications Holdings, the agency’s other supplier of body scanners. “It became clear to TSA they would be unable to meet our timeline,” Waters said. “As a result of that, we terminated the contract for the convenience of the government.”
Airline passengers were offended by the revealing images, including those of children and the elderly. The Washington- based Electronic Privacy Information Center sued the agency in July 2010 claiming the scanners violated privacy laws and has called use of the machines equivalent to a “physically invasive strip search.”
Sanders said the Rapiscan units did their job by screening 130 million passengers, and the agency wouldn’t have acted if not for the congressional mandate for privacy software.”We are not pulling them out because they haven’t been effective, and we are not pulling them out for safety reasons,” Sanders said. “We’re pulling them out because there’s a congressional mandate.”
OSI Systems is “pleased to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with the TSA” that will involve moving the machines to other government agencies, L-3 scanning machines rely on millimeter-wave technology, which uses radio frequencies that can find both metallic and non-metallic items. Rapiscan’s machines are based on backscatter technology, which uses low-dose X-ray radiation to detect objects under a passenger’s clothes. Under pressure from privacy advocates and some members of Congress, the TSA moved its screens to separate rooms away from airport security checkpoints. Officials monitoring the scanner images alert agents if they see a possible risk.
The agency’s strategy for handling passenger traffic relies on the capability of L-3’s millimeter-wave machines to process passengers in about half the time as Rapiscan machines, Sanders said. TSA will be getting about 60 more L-3 scanners in January and February, he said.TSA is also planning to move some scanners from airports where they’re underutilized to busier airports, Sanders said. The agency plans to expand the PreCheck program, in which passengers share personal data before going to the airport in exchange for less-invasive screening that lets them keep their belts and shoes on.