Regulators issue court-mandated rules on airport body scanners

In 2011, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and ordered TSA to publish regulations for the machines, including the ability for a passenger to opt out and receive a pat down instead. Although the practice is currently allowed, the court said many consumers weren’t aware of it.

The court gave TSA until March 2013 to issue the proposed regulations, which just passed through White House review this week. The proposal will be officially published in the Federal Register next Tuesday. Comments will be accepted for 60 days after that.

The TSA says in the notice that it will remove all of the machines that produce the vivid images – called “backscatter” devices – by May 31 and replace them with ones that only show a rough outline of a person’s body.

The document also outlines the history of airport security screening and the greater need to move beyond simple metal detectors because of chemical and other threats. The agency addresses the potential invasion of privacy of the images in an attempt to assuage fears about the technology.

“The versatility of AIT in detecting both metallic and non-metallic concealed items without physical contact makes it more effective than metal detectors as a tool to protect transportation security,” the document reads. Further, once the image of the traveler appears without finding anything prohibited, that picture is deleted.

The new devices, which have congressionally mandated “Automatic Target Recognition” (ATR) software, are deemed to be less intrusive. Even though the TSA says both devices are safe, those with concerns of radiation can sleep soundly – the new machines use radio waves instead of X-rays.

Radiation testing of the old models, however, is still ongoing because the agency may decide to use the backscatter machines again in the future, according to reports. That all depends on if the main backscatter manufacturer, Rapiscan, can figure out how to install ATR software on its products.