TSA to pull privacy-intruding scanners from airports

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Body scanners that display nude images of travelers will no longer operate in airports by June 2013, the Transportation Security Administration announced Jan. 17.

Rapiscan, maker of the backscatter X-ray-based scanners, was unable to produce software by a June 2013 deadline that substitutes a generic human-shaped outline on a display screen for a fully unclothed image similar to the software deployed onto millimeter-wave-based airport scanners. As a result, "TSA has terminated its contract with Rapiscan," the agency announced.

TSA has spent more than $40 million on Rapiscan scanners since 2009; 174 such machines remain in use in U.S. airports even after TSA pulled 91 of them away from use and into storage in 2012.

A backlash to the scanners by individual travelers--one of whom in late 2010 coined the anti-TSA frisking phrase "don't touch my junk" after refusing to be scanned--and privacy advocates led the agency to begin deploying generic human body display software in 2011. The software is meant to automatically detect potential threats, and if none are found, display "OK" on a monitor showing only a cartoon body outline.

Health concerns played no apparent role in TSA's decision. Several studies have found the backscatter X-ray machines pose no risk, but political pressure led the Homeland Security Department in December to task the National Academy of Sciences with producing another health and safety report.

In a statement, House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said he is seeking assurance that the sidelined scanners won't be deployed to federal facilities, adding that the federal government shouldn't bear the costs for their airport removal.

For more:
- read the TSA statement announcing cancelation of Rapiscan's contract

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