TSA lied: naked-scanners can store and transmit images

You know those airport scanners that can see through your clothes, offering an intimate look at your junk and your lovehandles and every other part of you that you keep between you, your spouse, your doctor and the bathroom mirror? You know how the TSA swore up and down that these machines didn't store and couldn't transmit the compromising photos of your buck-naked self?

They lied.

The documents, which include technical specifications and vendor contracts, indicate that the TSA requires vendors to provide equipment that can store and send images of screened passengers when in testing mode, according to CNN.

The TSA has stated publicly on its website, in videos and in statements to the press that images cannot be stored on the machines and that images are deleted from the scanners once an airport operator has examined them. The administration has also insisted that the machines are incapable of sending images.

Just more US government employees doing Al Qaeda's business: undermining the quality of life in the "free" world. Osama's still free, how about you?

Airport Scanners Can Store, Transmit Images (via Digg)

(Image: TSA)


  1. Did anyone (that reads Boing-boing) believe for a second the assertion that we wouldn’t eventually see (possibly on TMZ): “Full body airport scan of Brad Pitt shows actor is fully equipped!”(or the converse)?? For the amount the TSA pays their screeners and here’s some weasel offering them a quick 5K$ …nah. This was lie told only to justify the congressional budgeting to a K-street contractor, it was not for us who already knew the truthiness of the matter.

  2. Sad to say I’m not surprised but certainly doesn’t make it right. Has anyone heard of an instance of someone’s scan leaving the machine?

  3. Basically, the machines have to save the images for them to be useful. In a criminal trial, the TSA very well might need to show why their search of your ‘nads was reasonable.

  4. This needs to go under the “Useless Superpowers” lede: useless, and incredibly detrimental to civil liberties, freedom, and, as you note, the quality of life.

  5. Should this naked-transmittal technology actually detect a terrorist, would the TSA get off its collective fat-ass to do more than twitter the image to Facebook?

  6. “The official said these functions are disabled before the machines are delivered to airports and that there is no way for screeners in airports to put the machines into test mode to enable the functions.”

    Are they depending upon the average TSA agent not being able to guess a default password such as “1234?”

  7. So, folks who would forgo this for privacy reasons, would you also avoid getting an MRI? A lot of those are stored on networks that could be hacked, and you can see parts in those as well. Subject the TSA handlers to Hippa, with comparable fines. Still find this a non-story.


    1. Last I knew, MRI machines weren’t run by flunkies that would have trouble getting hired at McDonald’s.

    2. “So, folks who would forgo this for privacy reasons, would you also avoid getting an MRI? A lot of those are stored on networks that could be hacked, and you can see parts in those as well.”

      I tend to trust a doctor a bit more than the TSA, if only because individual doctors usually have a reputation to keep, unlike some random TSA guy/gal, and if medical documents are shared, it’s pretty easy to figure out what office they were leaked from.

    3. That is a fine strawman, I must say, but having an MRI, as you have even alluded to, is a voluntary process.

    4. I’ve never had an MRI. I probably average a flight a month over the last ten years. Slight difference in attack area, there. Though, given how annoying it is to fly these days, I’ve cut way, way back in the last couple of years.

      Also, keep in mind that pretty much every time the TSA has assured the confidentiality or destruction of our data, they have been proven liars. Not lying just because they’re incompetent, but as a matter of policy. Try googling “tsa jet blue lie”.

  8. I’m still not convinced about the utility of these machines but if we ARE stuck with them I can easily imagine a scenario where you’d want that feature:

    Let’s say some nutjob brings down another airplane and the TSA wants to know how he did it to improve security on future flights. (Remember: we still don’t know exactly what kind of knives the 9/11 hijackers used and the only reason we know as much as we do is that passengers lived long enough to make phone calls.) In this situation it would make sense to go over the scans of the passengers just to see if there was something the initial screening missed.

    Whether that benefit outweighs passengers’ right to privacy is another issue. The real problem here is that we haven’t even been allowed the courtesy of informed consent.

    1. Remember: we still don’t know exactly what kind of knives the 9/11 hijackers used and the only reason we know as much as we do is that passengers lived long enough to make phone calls.

      Atta et al. on the Boston flights used boxcutters, which can plainly be seen sticking out from their back pockets on the Logan security vids. So for “improving security” one might advise “Look for boxcutters sticking out of rear pockets.” That should do the trick.

  9. So… kids can’t go through them, cause that would be child pron… so… this means that kids have to be strip-searched and have there orifices checked?

    Also, does anyone know how this works? Is it radiation? Are they killing us with cancer? (P.S. This is how you get it stopped. Good rhetoric.)

    1. These machines work by bouncing high frequency sound waves off your body and capturing the resulting echo, so there is little recourse for taking them to court on medical safety issues as devices which use similar waves are already common.

      lich: love the idea, but as far as I understand these machines cannot see into your body – so your cigar tube would only be for personal enjoyment. Yes, that means if you can fit a bomb up your ass [def possible using C4] then these new-fangled toys still wont protect us as they are supposed to.

      The erection idea is great. If I am ever forced to go into one of these stupid machines I am most def gonna ensure I have a boner. I might even just fondle myself right there in the tube. That, or stick various odd shapes of plasticine to my body before entering… just to mess with them. Perhaps I might even feign ignorance to technology, step inside the tube, start undressing and not stop until the secuity guys swarm.

      Whatever we do, it is our duty to make this so pointless, costly and time-consuming that they have to scrap it.

      1. These machines work by bouncing high frequency sound waves off your body and capturing the resulting echo

        No, they don’t. They use millimeter wavelength radio frequency waves. Not very much like sound at all. It’s probably not harmful in any “oh noes they’re bombarding my nads with x-rays!” manner but a not unrelated device is being used experimentally as an area denial munition.

  10. The official said these functions are disabled before the machines are delivered to airports and that there is no way for screeners in airports to put the machines into test mode to enable the functions. The official, however, would not elaborate on what specific protections, if any, are in place to prevent airport personnel from putting the machines in test mode.

    Like several of the POS systems that leaked “card and pin” information because they got left in debug mode and were storing all transaction data in unencrypted form which allowed someone sitting in the parking lot to crack into the wireless network, navigate to the POS terminals and steal most of it with simple file copies. Yep, we know where this is going…

  11. #7, no, they’d post it to Twitter. Then they’d expect the public to catch the perp – just like now.

  12. As much as I dont like the government lying to us and not caring at all about our privacy, we Americans take nudity a little too seriously.

    1. #21 – It’s not that we take nudity too seriously. I’m all for porn, I’m a consumer of porn. Those people have chosen to be in porn, or to appear naked in some website or publication. Sometimes I even go to a nudist beach and my junk is out for anyone to see and probably photograph if they have a zoom lens and they think I’m hot like fire and I don’t notice.

      But I am not giving consent to the TSA to see my naked body and take pictures of it.

      I will never set foot inside one those porn machines.

  13. We should all just arrive at the airport 6 hours early and be individually strip searched, of course.

    I love how they were able to find a contractor for this technology in like a week. I bet there are people hired to sit around with a pitch for the next anti-terrorism technology.

    They aren’t even trying to hide their corruption anymore. It’s insulting.

  14. It seems to me that it’s not long before they adapt computer vision apps to detect anomalies in scanning… with a sufficient set of training data, this shouldn’t be hard, and we would then only enable the invasion of privacy for people who stand out as outliers for the computer’s initial scan.
    In that sort of scenario, I don’t see this as being so dangerous.

  15. Just as the NSA was NEVER supposed to monitor conversations without proper need under their own watch, someone’s going to start collecting and saving these images.

    “So, folks who would forgo this for privacy reasons, would you also avoid getting an MRI? A lot of those are stored on networks that could be hacked, and you can see parts in those as well. Subject the TSA handlers to Hippa, with comparable fines. Still find this a non-story.”

    I’m less worried about a hospital mis-using my image in some power-trip than I am the DHS.

    1. Are they the same Deepak Chopra? One holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electronics and a Master of Science degree in Semiconductor Electronics (OSI website).

      The other completed his primary education at St. Columba’s School in New Delhi and graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. (The Wikipedia article.)

  16. Who in their right mind would believe that technology this sophisticated wouldn’t be capable of transmitting it’s information elsewhere. And of course there will be a need for people to analyze and collect these images in many other places besides airports.

  17. Not sure what the bid deal is. I have much less of a problem with this than I do with them rifling through my bag.

  18. I believe my freedom of expression means I can put a cigar tube up my butt when I go through one of these. When they see the “suspicious” cigar tube, and do the cavity search, they’ll find the tube only contains a small note reading “Hi TSA! Hope you are having a nice day today! Keep up the good work!”

    1. When I first heard about these scanners, I joked that I was going to get the 4th amendment tattooed on my butt, but your idea definitely beats mine!

    2. While the cigar tube in your bum gag sounds amusing I suspect they’d decide to be pricks about it and charge you with making a joke about security. Lord only knows what kind of Star Chamber shenanigans they’d pull on you then.

  19. Ok, I’m just gonna point this out here…
    If the machines can’t store and transmit images…
    Where do these example black and whites come from?
    I ain’t as stupid as you need me to be, gummint.

  20. To all those who say, “what’s the big deal?” I suggest the following:

    The big deal is that they lied, and what they were and are actually doing is more intrusive than they claimed. The lesson to take from this is that for ever inch you give, they take a mile. Don’t believe ’em, or trust ’em, and give no quarter. This is a fight for freedom.

  21. Just more US government employees doing Al Qaeda’s business: undermining the quality of life in the “free” world.

    This is such blabblative reactionarianism. You may dislike the government, and that’s fine, but to summarize ordinary people as doing the work of Al Qaeda isn’t right. Instead of attacking the people doing their low paying jobs with destructive demoralizing public tirades, it might be more constructive to promote ideas to improve the situation. It’s so easy to point fingers and scream about how bad everyone else sucks from the comfort of your iphone.

    Personally, I would happily jpeg your junk to feed my children in a tough economy with a low paying job, caring little for what you “think”.

  22. I have no intention of allowing such a revealing scan of my body in exchange for the illusion that doing so will make me any less likely to be terrorized. Why would anyone consent to being screened by this machine? This technology is an outright assault on personal privacy.

  23. How long until we see the first “Celebrity Scanner Photos!” The tabloids would be all over that, you’d better believe it.

    1. Seriously, I wonder how celebrities feel about this. Not only is it highly possible there will be leaks, but they’re sure to be unflattering no matter how great their body is.

      1. Dimensional Punk – celebrities will not care about this – THEIR leaked images will be photoshopped.

  24. I suspect that we are seeing the dawn of the teleportation age. Detecting metal was just the first step. Now we pass through microwave spectrum visualizationers and a TSA guy behind the screen gets the 98th erection of his workday.

    Tomorrow, maybe it’s a deeper scan, more detail, can read our bio signs, see if the “terrorist” lobe of the brain is active.

    Then a full atomic breakdown, analysis, storage, and re-hydrating. Those future machines will replace air travel as we know it, with teleportation pods at the end of the catwalk.

  25. Three words. Invisible radiopaque ink. Simply write the desired message on the desired area, (use your imagination), and let the fun begin!

  26. I’d’ve thought it was perfectly obvious that the machines could store/transmit images from the whole, every news article ever having an image from the machines thing.

    Test mode or not, unless it’s permanently physically disabled, and in a space where it can’t be tampered with, it’s a capability the machines have. Just because my camera has no memory card in it right now, it doesn’t mean it stops being a camera.

    The lies are one thing, but trusting anything the TSA says, when there’s clear evidence to the contrary, that’s just a bit silly, frankly.

    I personally look forward to repeated pat downs as I refused to be scanned, due to sense above all else (I have dodgy shoulders and lots of piercings) I can’t imagine that’ll look good on a scanner after the christmas day thing.

  27. What makes you think celebrities/congress critters/hedge fund managers other DIP’s (Deeply Important People) will be subject to such indignities?

    They’ll be off on their own private jets leaving us plebeians to have their nads bombarded.

    The shocking thing is that most people have no problem at all.

    Americans are also in favour of implementing full-body scan machines, which produce an outline of a person’s body (see right) on a monitor. Nearly half (47%) say all passengers should be screened, while 33% would limit the scans to those passengers who screeners think might pose a threat. Only 9% completely oppose the full-body scan. of which the 9% seem to be concentrated here on Boing Boing.


    Please America, as on outsider how can I stop your 9 year train wreck?

  28. “The TSA also asserts that the machines are not networked, so they cannot be accessed by hackers”

    Up-coming headline: “TSA ‘naked scanners’ are networked”

  29. Cory said:

    Osama’s still free, how about you?

    I want that as a tee shirt and if it wasn’t for the fact it would make my car “cop-bait”, I’d like it as a bumper sticker too.

    It would probably piss off the hicks that love that crap country song though. The one that goes, “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free” lyrics?

    1. @Cowicide: I love country, and have never heard that song (<3 Canada), and I think I’m glad. Also, iron-ons are pretty cheap, you could always make a t-shirt with that. (I’m gonna, thx for the idea)

      P.S. MrJM++

  30. I’m in favour.

    Let’s just all get less hung-up about nudity.
    Brad Pit’s penis wouldn’t sell so well if it was more freely available.

  31. “Any sufficiently digital display is indistinguishable from copying.” Of _course_ the machine can store and transmit. It’s a computer. The image gets into storage; it comes out of storage. Hook it up to other storage and it can store the image again.

    The question is whether the any of the users can access that mode. If it’s behind reasonable security — an additional password with a tampering counter, or a separately carried key, or whatever — it’s as secure as any of the machines people have been putting their feelthy peektures on — including their phones (as has been thoroughly proven by now).

    Frankly, the next generation seems to have already decided that privacy was a quaint 20th-century idea, existing only between the time when communities grew too large for everyone to know everyone else’s business and the time when people posted their entire lives on line. Maybe they have a point.

    Personally, if anyone wants to look at my pudgy corpus, that’s THEIR problem. I won’t inflict nudity on people, as an exercise in courtesy, but I’m not particularly ashamed of it either.

    I had a nice direct demonstration of how context defines meaning a few years ago, when a friend casually hauled up her shirt and started breastfeeding in the middle of a group. The ape’s reaction was quite clearly “It’s a tit! … Oh, it’s in use; that changes the meaning completely. Never mind.”

  32. Serveral years ago I commented to a friend that Americans would have to living in cardboard boxes on the street before they thought to do something about a dysfunctional government run amuck. It appears that I was correct.

  33. I know. Boycott any airports with naked scanners. Let’s see how the airports like the loss of people buying overpriced food and souvis. If I find out where they are, I’ll take airports that don’t have them, even if I have to skirt JFK.

  34. So if I had some body modification work done, say had a cartoon character I created and copyrighted and trademarked implanted, would the TSA scanners be violating copyright and trademark law by storing the scan?

    If a scan of a child is child porn then surely a scan of IP would be in violation of IP laws.

  35. I don’t feel too badly about TSA employees passing around digital images of my naked self. Anyone who wants a second viewing of that probably deserves whatever they get.

    On the other hand, I don’t like what this says about the TSA’s handling of other data. Can we trust them to handle any of our information properly?

  36. In the immortal words of Benjamin Franklin – “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    This, like so much that our overbearing and nanny minded government does, is a crock of shit.

  37. I don’t know. I feel if I’m forced to walk through one of these machines that they should be forced to show the picture of my naked body to everyone standing around me. But then, that’s just the weird exhibitionist part of my brain finding the bright side of things…

  38. Anyone who wants to see my nads is welcome to them if it means spending one minute less in damn security lines.

  39. So they had to add the software to fuzzy the crotch and boobies. The question for me now is, where in the process does that happen? Before local storage? Or just before video processing? Is this storing the raw full Monty view when activated?

  40. Let’s think of how we can defeat this. A pairs of tights, with gunpowder in spread in between it and your skin. It’s a very thin layer. Right next to your skin, in the shape of your body. Even if it shows up on this scanner, it’s not distinguishable from your body. When you get on the plane, go to the toilet, scrape it off with your plane ticket …

    1. Tights are porous, so the gunpowder would probably sift right out. Replace the tights with latex leggings/bodysuit and you’ve got something.

  41. @ post #21 agreenster as well as #52 MomentEye

    the nudity wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the scanners were manned entirely by a viscous fleet of 90 year old grandmother types. as it stands, a horde of creepy men will likely be stationed. walking fully clothed down a respectable street at dusk, i get “im masturbating to you tonight honey” i can only imagine the kind of creepiness that lies ahead if this goes through to every airport. you really cant see why the nudity thing would be annoying for women?

    @ post #42 teapot
    cackling for a good 5 min. thank you

  42. Beyond the privacy implications, this reminded me of some nude photos of some famous and unlikely people that surfaced, such as Hillary Clinton… As a condition of entry into some major colleges, they took a lot of early “Biometric” photos. This was a remnant of the “Eugenics” movement, “Research” done on the “Upper class and intellectuals” so real scientific data could be collected and went on for decades because nobody knew about it or wanted others to know or challenged it.

  43. Surely the fact that they have been able to show us images of the output of these machines (like the pic in the article) proves that the images can be removed and stored?

  44. i’m glad this has been proven. i’m sick of people telling me i’m wrong when a friend – who works at an airport in their IT department – told me this very thing in 2008 when they were told the scanners would be installed.

  45. It’s the lie that gets em. The images themselves are hardly wanking material, they should have just been upfront about it and people would have gotten over it in a a day.

  46. Why is everyone talking about privacy? How about that the national academy of science says there is not safe amount of radiation. So does MIT. So don’t look at my undies? Don’t give me cancer. Already people have decided to stop having meetings in person because of this.
    Say you don’t know you are pregnant and you walk through: abortion, birth defects, premature birth and a lifetime of taking care of autistic kids?
    The resto f us: inflammatory diseases, cancer —- you name it.

  47. “That is a fine strawman, I must say, but having an MRI, as you have even alluded to, is a voluntary process.”

    So is flying.

  48. Of course the images need to be able to be stored and transmitted; if they needed to be used as evidence in a trial, it would do the prosecution no good if some pretty damning evidence had been deleted seconds after it was generated. I’m not surprised at all, but I do agree that they should have just addressed the issue up front.

  49. I really don’t care very much about this.

    I will never get over spying on our e-mails and phone calls. That seems to me to be a far more serious threat to civil liberties.

  50. Is there a type of ink you can use to write on yourself so that it will show up on these scanners?

    Like could I draw a picture of a gun on my hip and it show up?

    Or write “If you can read this, then SomethingSmartAndWitty”?

  51. #70, you’re too late. There’s no need to think of a way to defeat it, it’s defeated before it’s deployed. Apparently, for the same reason it can’t see clothes, the scanner can’t see powders, baggies, or light plastic. The Christmas bomber had basically a baggie full of a powder and a light plastic syringe with a liquid. None of that would have been detected. So he would have gotten through one of these scanners fine.
    It also can’t detect the classic smuggler’s approach of putting what you want to hide up your orifice.

    Frankly, when it comes to these things there are two different issues: privacy and waste of taxpayers’ money.

    Oh, yeah–and for the person who wondered at how fast a vendor was found, it’s the other way around. The ex-head of Homeland Security, who did the pushing for these things in the media and, I’m sure, behind the scenes, is flacking for the vendor. It’s the vendor that arranged for their machine to be demanded, not demand for the machine that caused a vendor to be found.

    1. Purple Library Guy

      “It’s the vendor that arranged for their machine to be demanded”

      Now there’s a conspiracy theory that has legs! ‘Machine manufacturers fund Yemeni based Al Quaeda training of would-be Nigerian suicide plane destroyer so as to get machines mandated.’ Shame it falls down when you consider the man they funded (according to such a conspiracy theory) did something their machines would have failed to stop. Oh – wait – they factored in how dumb our political masters and TSA are and DELIBERATELY set him up with a method that would fail anyway (after all they didn’t want to sacrifice anyone but the poor sap himself) and knew they could rely on the “something must be done, this is something, it must be done” reaction to get them their gov’t dollars. Yep -still has legs.

      I await the inevitable YouTube documentary proving how this is irrefutably what happened. ;-)

  52. I don’t fly any more. I am insufficiently frightened to consent to being a part of the terror system.

    Free men are armed.

    Women, too.

  53. To the fellow who wanted to know if the people that object to this on privacy grounds, would forgo an MRI. I have a much better question, let’s turn it around. Would the people that are OK with this for security purposes be OK with having their MRIs administered by TSA employees?

  54. I cannot believe that people I work with, who I was talking to today, feel that all this security is justified, despite the fact that we will have to wait in three hour lines to get home.

    I tried to explain to them, but they didn’t want to hear it. The defeat to all this security is so. damned. easy.

    Bring a suitcase (or two) entirely full of C4 into the security line. Detonate. Voila. All the security in the world is defeated. More people are scared, thinking that 300 deaths is more frightening than the other 300 that occurred every 3 days in car accidents. The don’t seem to stop driving…

    Useless, I know, but dammit I’m pissed. Why is there no recourse, no logic?

  55. Here’s the problem: Someone could always put something in their body and bring it on the plane, so the the real area of concern is the airplane bathroom where folks are unattended. I watch people sitting next to me like a hawk but when they go to the bathroom I loose site of them.

    TSA, stop this stupid scan stuff and start looking at lie detection systems. With todays tech. we should be able to put a camera on someone and ask them one question and decide if there are dangerous. Read body reactions like temperature/heartrate/bloodflow. Body scanners are worthless unless you MRI everyone.

  56. Hell, lets all fly naked. I don’t care. I know what what you look like under those clothes. It is no secret.

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