The Transportation Security Administration will install five of its "whole-body imagers" at Denver International Airport this fall. It's similarly outfitting terminals nationwide. Eventually, the TSA will scan every passenger on every flight.
The gizmos do exactly what the name implies, peering through clothing so that we appear naked on the monitors. Should these X-rays be rated X, as critics claim?
Not if you listen to the TSA. It uses two technologies to scan us through our jeans; it says one "produces an image that resembles a fuzzy photo negative" while the other's just "a chalk etching."
But can we trust the TSA? The agency has already misrepresented another aspect of these scanners: their ability to retain the naughty negatives. "[Whole-body technologies] cannot store, print, transmit or save the image," asserts the TSA's website. Yet CNN reported earlier this year that a Freedom of Information Act suit had "obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts" for the scanners — and those specs show that the TSA required "image storage and sending abilities . . . ."
In addition, one of the two technologies, backscatter X-ray, may be carcinogenic. But again, the TSA says otherwise: "Advanced imaging technology is safe and meets national health and safety standards."
Currently, the TSA pretends that submitting to the scan is voluntary. But the agency threatens those who refuse to pose naked with a groping. And even this charade of a choice may disappear in 2013: the Senate introduced legislation in June requiring the TSA to replace metal detectors with these contraptions at all checkpoints by then.
Fortunately, there's a third option: abolish the TSA. Let airlines provide their own security, as other industries do. Why should aviation alone stick taxpayers with its costs? For eight years, the TSA has bullied, abused, humiliated and delayed passengers. What it hasn't done is find a single terrorist.