DHS official: TSA didn't have to sideline scanners for lack of privacy software

Chief privacy officer says alternate protocol is valid
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Instead of having 91 full-body backscatter X-ray scanners sit in a warehouse, the Transportation Security Administration could give air travelers the choice to go through the machines even though they lack privacy software, the Homeland Security Department's Jonathan Cantor said Nov. 15.

Cantor, the department's acting chief privacy officer, said during a House hearing that in terms of privacy, there are two valid protocols for the scanners. Under the original protocol, an officer who cannot see the passenger examines the nude image the scanner produces. TSA can also use software that detects concealed objects but only produces a generic outline of a person.

But that software has failed on backscatter X-ray machines, so TSA decided to put 91 of them, worth $14 million, in storage.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on transportation security, suggested at the hearing that TSA return them to airports, put them in certain screening lines and tell passengers they can go through them if they don't mind the lack of privacy software.

"Some people, like me, don't care. If I can get through that line faster, it doesn't matter to me," Rogers said. "Why put the things in a warehouse when you can give us that option?"

Cantor said that the privacy office wouldn't have a problem with that, but it hasn't come up in its discussions with TSA.

Congress has mandated that TSA install the privacy software, known as automated target recognition, on all body scanners by June 1, 2013. That deadline is driving TSA's decision to sideline the scanners and fix the privacy software, said John Sanders, TSA's assistant administrator for the office of security capabilities.

Sanders said he didn't know how long the scanners would sit in storage. TSA is waiting to hear back from the manufacturer so it can develop a timeline.

Currently, TSA machines worth about $155 million are in storage, awaiting either redeployment or disposal, Sanders said.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (webcast and prepared testimonies available)

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