Heading home for the holidays? Get ready for some traditional Christmas goose, figgy pudding, apple pie, and … a TSA body scan. A little-noticed change in regulations from DHS last week can now require travelers to use the body scanners rather than opt out for a physical pat-down, CBS reports:
Most holiday travelers will be driving this year, but heightened airport security measures may cause inconvenience for the nearly 6 million who are expected to get on an airplane. In light of the Paris attacks, the TSA is changing its passenger screening protocols regarding airport body scanners, reports CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues.
The Department of Homeland Security quietly made these changes last week.
DHS officials wrote in a document that the TSA was updating “the ability of individuals to opt-out of AIR (Advanced Imaging Technology) screening in favor of physical screening.” This now clears the way for the TSA to “direct mandatory body scanner screening for some passengers as warranted by security considerations.”
Over the years, the technology has evolved. Those body scanners that some critics labeled “virtual strip searches” are gone in favor of machines which replace an individual’s image with that of a generic figure. Officials believe this lessens privacy concerns.
Interestingly, CBS correspondent Jeff Pegues reports that the Paris terrorist attack is what drove these changes. That seems a bit strange, given that the Paris attack had nothing to do with aviation at all. Perhaps some of the material used for the suicide bombs might have had counterterrorism officials worried that they could get some explosives past security, but as Pegues also reminds us, TSA routinely fails to detect potential explosives even when they are made of materials they can detect.
Something tells me that the TSA’s 96% failure rate has less to do with scanner opt-outs and more to do with issues relating to competency, and that this heightened alert has more to do with the recognition that we’re still very vulnerable despite all of the security theater at the airport. Perhaps the mandatory scans will compensate for that, and if so, fine — but the better approach would be to rethink airport security from top to bottom.