TSA: Rapiscan to pay costs of removing explicit full-body scanners from airports

The company that produces full-body scanners will pay to remove machines that capture explicit images of passenger's bodies, according to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

The controversial "backscatter" X-ray machines produce black-and-white images of airline passengers as they are screened for security risks. TSA ended its contract with Rapiscan after the company failed to meet a congressionally-mandated deadline to produce scanners that did not reveal images of the passengers.

In a blog post on the TSA website, agency blogger Bob Burns announced that the company would assume financial responsibility for moving the controversial scanners out of the nation's airports.

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The units will be replaced by "millimeter wave" X-ray machines, which have been configured to show the results of scans on generic images of the human body. The technology is referred to by TSA as Automated Target Recognition (ATR).

"At this point, all millimeter wave units have been equipped with ATR, but even with the extension to 2013, Rapiscan was unable to fulfill their end of the contract and create the ATR software that would work with backscatter units," Burns wrote.

"As a result, TSA terminated the contract with Rapiscan in order to comply with the congressional mandate," he continued. "All Rapiscan [Advanced Imaging Technology] units currently operational at checkpoints around the country, as well as those stored at the TSA Logistics Center, will be removed by Rapiscan at their expense and stored until they can be redeployed to other mission priorities within the government. Most of the backscatter units being removed will be replaced with millimeter wave units."

Burns said the millimeter scanners would be "moved from the inventory currently deployed at other airports and from an upcoming purchase of additional millimeter wave units."

The result, he said, would be that "[B]y June 1, 2013 travelers will only see machines which have ATR that allow for faster throughput. This means faster lanes for the traveler and enhanced security."

The backscatter X-ray machines have been among the most criticized of TSA's airport-security procedures. Critics worried about privacy argue that the images captured by the machines invade the personal space of airline passengers, and they questioned the agency on what happened to those explicit pictures after the security checks are complete.

Critics also raised health concerns about the radiation that it is emitted from the backscatter X-ray machines.

TSA has maintained that none of its X-ray machines pose health risks to airline passengers, and the agency has pointed to ATR systems to rebut criticism about privacy concerns.

Burns also noted in his post that "[A]s always, use of this technology is optional," a reference to the availability of "pat-down" hand searches by TSA agents.

Pat-downs have also emerged as a lightning rod for conservative critics of the TSA. Lawmakers, most prominently Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), have compared the procedure to sexual assault.