There has been considerable controversy over the deployment of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) backscatter whole body image scanners and millimeter wave scanners (referred to as WBI Scanners from now on). Some people see the scanners as a violation of their personal right to privacy, others have religious objections, and others object simply because they can.
Back on the 4th of August CNET released a story regarding Federal Agencies in the United States storing and transmitting images. Despite the story stating that the TSA does not store or transmit these WBI Scanner images there are countless online stories, Twitter messages and quite a few e-mails in my box, stating that the TSA is storing and transmitting WBI Scanner images.
Despite the rumours and rumours based on rumours, the fact is that TSA’s WBI Scanners do not store or transmit images and cannot do so in the airport environment.
The WBI Scanners, manufactured by Rapiscan Systems and L-3 Communications, based largely on technology developed by Tek84’s President Dr. Steven Smith, follow very strict guidelines that would prevent any images from being stored or transmitted.
While TSA WBI Scanners technically have the capability to store and transmit images, the machines can only perform this function in Test Mode, a function not carried out in an Operation Area. Placing a WBI Scanner into test mode is not something that can be in the field, at an airport where the units are deployed, and it cannot be done by anyone without “Level Z” authorization.
Presently the TSA has approximately 51,500 employees, of these 51,500 employees, only 45 people have “Level Z” authorization … of these 45 people with “Level Z” authorization, only 15 have actual authorization and training to convert a TSA WBI Scanner into Test Mode. So with 0.02% of those working within in the TSA having the authority and ability to place a TSA WBI Scanner into Test Mode, where it can store and transmit images, the likelihood of it ever occurring in an operational setting is pretty much zero
Aside from only 15 people, making up 0.02% of the TSA’s man power, having the authority and ability to switch a TSA WBI Scanner from Operational Mode to Test Mode … these 15 people are deployed to areas other than airports. Where are these 15 people based? Let me tell you, 8 at Transportation Security Laboratory located at the Atlantic City International Airport, 3 at TSA System Integrations Facility located at Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport, and 4 serving as Training Development Contractors at Threat Mitigation Laboratory.
Still not convinced that the TSA WBI Scanners aren’t storing and transmitting images of passengers at airports?
Skip the dozens of conspiracy theories you may find online and look at the actual hardware its self. The TSA Backscatter Scanners are not network or online in anyway. The screeners viewing the images are connected via a hard-line with no part of their system being connected online. As the machines are not part of the network, they cannot be infiltrated or hacked by outside users. Worried some hacker will sneak into the airport and splice into the hard-line from the WBI Scanner to the TSA Transportation Security Officer (TSO) view the images without being spotted? The images being transmitted from the WBI Scanner to the TSO is encrypted.
…additionally, the machines are incapable of saving images to a USB device or printing via USB printer. The only way the TSA WBI Scanners can store or print an image is in a laboratory environment. Why are they incapable of storing & printing from USB devices? It’s because the required hardware is not part of the design of the machine.
You may object to the use of WBI Scanners … I know I prefer the scanner to being patted down … but don’t base your objections on paranoia and incorrect information.
TSO’s operating the WBI Scanners have no idea who you are and are isolated from all others. Once you leave the WBI Scanner the image is wiped from the system before a new person can jump in and get screened.
My issues with the TSA’s WBI Scanners are not with the technology, privacy or security or its usage, but with the policy the TSA has surrounding its usage.