TSA's 'explicit' scanners used in prison

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Jails and prisons across the country are now using X-ray machines that were removed from airports because they captured explicit images of airline passengers' bodies.

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) confirmed to The Hill on Tuesday that more than 150 of its controversial "backscatter" X-ray machines have been sent to other governmental agencies, including a series of state prisons and emergency management facilities.

The machines were taken out of service at the TSA's airport security checkpoints in 2013 because they produced black-and-white images that were deemed to violate people's privacy. The images showed the contours of people's bodies in great detail.


The General Services Administration (GSA) is handling the transfer of the X-ray machines to nonairport facilities, according to the TSA.

“TSA and the vendor are working with other government agencies interested in receiving the units for their security mission needs and for use in a different environment," the agency said in a statement. "To date, 154 have been transferred to other agencies.”

The TSA ended its contract with the producer of the X-ray machines, Rapiscan, in January 2013. The termination came after the company missed a  congressionally mandated deadline to produce scanners that did not reveal images of the passengers.

The "backscatter" scanners were replaced by "millimeter wave" X-ray machines, which are configured to show the results of airport security scans on generic images of the human body. The technology is referred to by TSA as Automated Target Recognition (ATR).

Prior to their removal from U.S. airports, the backscatter X-ray machines were among the most criticized of TSA's airport-security procedures.

Critics worried about privacy argued that the images captured by the machines invade the personal space of airline passengers. 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.

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