Yesterday afternoon a story in Chicago Tribune dropped a bombshell on airline travelers. In a statement to the Chicago Tribune, Kathleen Petrowsky, the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Director at Chicago O’Hare Airport (ORD), stated that she believed full body scanning, using new body scanning machines, would become mandatory in the future to guard against improvised explosive devices being smuggled onto airliners.
Presently many disagree with the use of whole body scanners. To accommodate those who disagree with the use of a whole body scanner, passengers are permitted opt-out of this layer of security and submit to a standard pat down…which has been the most common method of secondary screening for many years.
Since the inception of the whole body scanning machine program, the TSA has stated that whole body scanning would be optional, primarily due to religious and cultural beliefs of various travelers.
Following ORD TSA Director Petrowsky’s statement that whole body scanning would become mandatory and I addressed this topic directly on Twitter, I received this reply from the TSA’s Blog Team – “Imaging technology is optional. No plans to make it mandatory… Anything else you read is incorrect. ”
With conflicting information I followed up with the TSA’s headquarters Public Affairs unit who confirmed the statement by TSA Director Petrowsky were incorrect.
While incorrect statements happen I am left with one nagging question … if passengers can opt out of being subjected to screening by whole body imaging technology, why is the TSA spending between US$130,000 and US$170,000 per machine?
If a passenger opts out they can be patted down. Passengers may also be subject to explosive trace detection on their hands randomly, however the whole body scanners do not detect explosives, merely physical anomalies on a travelers body.
Adding multiple layers of security that give passengers options allows those seeking to do harm the ability to study both security systems and learn the best system to choose to beat the odds of being caught. Those who seek to do harm against airports and airliners do their homework along with significant reconnaissance research to learn the system so they can beat it.
Lets focus on improving the current systems so the TSA can be the master of one system rather than a jack-of-all-trades who is a master of none.