Say goodbye to "naked image" body scanners

A TSA officer views images from the Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport in this October 22, 2010 file photo. The backscatter X-ray full-body scanners can see through clothing, and screen passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats, including explosives. Michael Nagle/Getty Images

WASHINGTON The last of the so-called "naked image" body scanners will soon be removed from U.S. airports.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is severing its $5 million software contract with OSI Systems Inc. for Rapiscan "Secure 1000" units, after the company couldn't produce less revealing images in time to meet a congressional deadline, reports CBS News aviation and transportation correspondent Sharyl Attkisson.

Seventy-six of the machines have already been removed from U.S. airports; there are currently 174 left.

But body scanners are not being removed from airports entirely. Still in use are machines made by L-3 Communications Holdings, Inc., which produce less-detailed images that comply with congressional mandates to better protect passenger privacy.

Use of advanced imaging body scanners at airports was accelerated after the so-called "underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas 2009. That was followed by an outcry from privacy advocates and members of Congress who argued the naked images produced by the machine were too invasive.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) likened a scan by the machines to a "physically invasive strip search."

In August, 2010 the TSA asked the makers of the body scanners to make the images less revealing. L-3 accomplished the goal in 2011, but Rapiscan recently said it would not be ready with its fix until 2014.

That's beyond a June deadline mandated by Congress.

While TSA will pull all of the current Rapiscan "backscatter" scanners out of operation by June 1 due to a congressional mandate that all TSA scanners have privacy filter software by then, TSA has NOT made a decision to permanently stop using backscatter scanners.

In fact, TSA has a contract with another company, American Science and Engineering Inc, to develop a "next generation" backscatter machine with privacy filter software. TSA also has contracts with L-3, which manufactures the millimeter-wave scanners currently in use, and Smiths Group to develop "next generation" millimeter-wave scanners.

Also, TSA says the 174 backscatter scanners that are being pulled from airports as well 76 additional backscatter scanners currently in storage will likely go to another federal agency for use elsewhere (not in airports).

  • Sharyl Attkisson On Twitter»

    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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