Your trip to the airport is about to get a little less creepy: The Transportation Security Administration announced today that it will remove controversial full body scanners from U.S. airports. Scanners won't disappear entirely, but existing machines, and those manufactured in the future, will all be equipped with privacy software.
Body scanning machines, which began screening large portions of fliers in 2010, were designed to reveal more hidden objects than the standard metal detector. Some did it using backscatter x-rays, while others used electromagnetic radiation, but both technologies did the same thing: They created an image of a person’s naked body. The agent examining the images was off-site and the pictures were immediately erased (though in at least one case, images had been saved and were leaked online), but the public still wasn’t happy about the machines.
In 2010, the TSA asked the manufacturers of the scanners to write software that would make the images less revealing. But when OSI Systems, the manufacturer of 174 scanners currently employed by the TSA, failed to meet the deadline—they estimated they wouldn’t be able to produce the software until 2014—the TSA terminated its contract with the company and will remove its Rapiscan machines from U.S. airports. (They aren’t going out of service, though; Bloomberg reports that the scanners will be moved to federal buildings).
The other company that currently makes airport scanners, L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., developed software that produces more generic images in 2011. Sixty of those machines will still be used at airports. More scanners, which all must be equipped with privacy software, will be also produced.