Travelers file complaints over TSA body scanners

Complaints include lack of instructions and information on alternatives, privacy group says

Documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) show that complaints have been lodged with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) over the use of whole-body scanners at U.S. airports.

More than two-dozen complaints that were filed by travelers subjected to whole-body scans over the past year or so were included in a document obtained by EPIC as the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The 51 pages of documents show that travelers were often not fully informed about the scans or what the process involved. Some complained about a lack of instructions or signage regarding the scanning machines, while others said they were not informed about the pat-down alternative available to those who don't want to be scanned. Travelers also expressed concern about their privacy being invaded, of feeling humiliated, of radiation risks to pregnant women and of children being subjected to the scans.

The letters belie the TSA's claims about the disclosure policies related to the use of the technology and of the general level of concern related to its use, said Ginger McCall, staff counsel at EPIC. "The TSA has been reassuring people that travelers will be made aware of what these machines are and of the alternatives that are available," McCall said. The complaints suggest otherwise and appear to show less support for the technology than the TSA has let on, she said.

The new documents are likely to provide more fodder for groups such as EPIC, the American Civil Liberties Union and others that have mounted a vigorous campaign calling for a thorough review of current plans for the technology.

Whole-body imagers, or advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners, as the government calls them, are designed to detect nonmetallic weapons and explosives concealed under a passenger's clothing, such as the explosive PETN powder that the would-be Christmas Day bomber concealed in his underwear. The TSA plans to install close to 900 body scanners at airports around the U.S. by 2014. About 200 AIT scanners are expected to be deployed by the end of this year at a cost of $130,000 to $170,000 per device. The scanners were most recently deployed at Boston's Logan International Airport.

Boston's Logan International Airport installed three new full-body scanners on Friday that the TSA says will help its agents better identify threats among air passengers.

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