TSA’s Whole Body Scanning Imaging Policy

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.

Happy Flying!



  1. Yeah.. more security theater. If some evil terrorist doesn’t want to go through the full body scan, they simply ask not to. OK!

  2. On a recent BBC program it was very interesting to hear that the only real defence against the terrorists was probably profiling, something that the Israel flag carrier has succesfully operated for a number of years!

  3. Agreed! I think improving the systems we have, as well as including better intelligence and profiling practices, will our path to better security.

  4. Really good point. What good does it do, if people can opt-out of being scanned?!

    I am so tired of the TSA just trying to look safe. Yea, I understand that most people have no idea how little all this “theater” actually does, but it makes them feel safe and fly, but we don’t need to spend this much money on these!


  5. Last month I went through the full body scan at SFO and still needed to be patted down (felt up) by a screener. Of course no response to my question: “why?”
    I am a little old lady 80 years of age.
    If this is the case then I shall refuse the scan in the future.
    My understanding there is no difinitive answer as to are the scans safe.

  6. One minor issue with SFO is that SFO is not a TSA airport. SFO is one of the few airports in the United States that is privatized. Security at SFO is handled by Covenant Security.

    Happy Flying!


  7. Airport security is such a waste of money and time. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to die from a terrorist attack.
    People using airplanes is still way down. But it’s not down because people feel unsafe, it’s down because who wants a pervert touching his private parts? And why would anyone want to be exposed to scanners with known health risks?

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