TSA Announces It Will Decide Who Goes Through the Body Scanner, Thank You

The pat-down route no longer a given.


You might have to make a quick detour before flying home for the holidays. In a change to the Transportation Security Administration’s long-standing policy regarding body scanners — advanced imaging technology, in TSA jargon — opting out of the machines in favor of a pat-down will be tougher than before. And by tougher we mean not-an-option if the TSA agent says so.

In an update quietly released on December 18, the TSA writes: “While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security.”

Which means that even if you say no to the body scanner, TSA could force you to go through one anyway.

For a change that will come as an unwelcome surprise to certain travelers, the TSA has played this card close to its proverbial chest. There’s no mention of it on the TSA press website; it wasn’t until the change caught the attention of ProPublica journalist Julia Angwin on Tuesday afternoon that websites (like this one!) began sharing the story.

The TSA has been notoriously squirrely about its body scanning machines, leaving the opt-out scenario as a refuge for those with troubling questions. Are backscatter radiation body scanners as safe as the (small amount of) evidence suggests? (Should we follow the lead of MD Anderson cancer doctors who opt out?) Can we trust the TSA to not to misplace images, unlike last time? (The new ones, the TSA says, don’t take naked photos or store the image data.)

But don’t spend too much time wasting your brainpower, champ — the TSA can just answer for you now.

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