TSA Screening Just Got Less Optional… Sort Of

Filed Under: Security/TSA

For years the TSA has been using AIT (Advanced Imaging Technology) machines at airports to screen passengers. These are the machines they’ve used in lieu of metal detectors — you walk into them, hold up your arms, and then are cleared to go after waiting for a few seconds.

For those of you not familiar, here’s a video about the technology:

Since it was introduced, use of the machine has been optional. You can choose to opt out, and in lieu of the AIT you’ll get a full body pat down. Some people prefer this. I used to opt out back in the day. I’m not sure why, exactly. Perhaps because I’m displeased with the TSA in general, and thought it was a decent way to “protest.” But it’s not something I do nowadays, as I’m a much mellower person and just want to get on my way. For that matter I don’t actually have to opt-out, since I have TSA Pre-Check, which means I get to use a metal detector in lieu of an AIT.


However, for those of you who always opted out of the AIT machine, the TSA has updated their policy on opt outs in a very confusing way. The Department of Homeland Security has published a “Privacy Impact Assessment Update For TSA Advanced Imaging Technology.”

Here’s the “abstract” for the update (bolding mine):

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has deployed Advanced Imaging Technologies (AIT) for operational use to detect threat objects carried on persons entering airport sterile areas. AIT identifies potential threat objects on the body using Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) software to display the location of the object on a generic figure as opposed to displaying the image of the individual. TSA is updating the AIT PIA to reflect a change to the operating protocol regarding the ability of individuals to opt opt-out of AIT screening in favor of physical screening. While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers. TSA does not store any personally identifiable information from AIT screening.

Under the new policy you can “generally decline” to use the AIT, but the TSA may also “direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers.” Puzzling, if you ask me. “Generally” having a right doesn’t really sound like a right to me.

Ironically this policy change goes on to talk about the “fair information practice principles,” like the “principle for transparency” and “principle of individual participation.” That’s a bit ironic, given that these changes are neither transparent, nor do they allow individuals to choose their participation. 😉

Bottom line

In theory I don’t actually have an issue with the TSA getting rid of the ability to opt out. However, I do sort of have an issue with a policy change which says you can still opt out, except under an unknown set of circumstances.

Bigger picture I’m not sure I get this change. If I understand the AIT machine correctly, it can detect “objects” on your body which are beneath your closing. Couldn’t a pat down accomplish the same? Or are there instances where an AIT could detect more than a pat down could? If so, perhaps this caveat addresses those situations, where a passenger is suspected of having something on their body, but the TSA can’t figure it out without the AIT screening.

Do you opt out of the TSA advanced imaging technology machine? What do you  make of this change?

(Tip of the hat to Wandering Aramean)

  1. If I have enough time before a flight, I always opt out. Something about watching TSA usher all those small children / pregnant mothers away from the AIT while insisting to me that it’s perfectly safe for everyone else always seemed a little suspicious. To my knowledge, the technology is too new & we don’t have long-term studies on the health consequences of extended use (for those of us who fly a lot). Also the Europeans don’t use them. And they’re generally right about everything. I’m with you, Ben, on opting out as a good form of protest, but surely there’s, like, a more vehement form of protest to draw attention to TSA cooking my tissues with unknown pieces of the electromagnetic spectrum. End rant.

  2. I’ve opted out for protest reasons as well in the past.

    The manual pat downs do not touch every part of the body that you could be hiding something. The bad guys know this and could try to take advantage of strategically placed items. In theory AIT will see these items.

    TSA is just opening themselves up to profiling/stereotyping claims with this change.

  3. Sounds about right for our out-of-control government. You are welcome to opt out of the machines that the TSA is illegally using unless they really want you to use them, in which case you still have to use them. If you refuse, you might get put on a super-secret watch list, or no-fly list, which will be based on unknown criteria and for which you will have zero due process. Welcome to the Land of the (formerly) Free.

  4. I opt out of the backscatter x-ray machines but will step in to the millimeter wave systems because the only concern I ever had about the new scanning technologies was about the harm caused by ionizing radiation.

    I know the amount of ionizing radiation is almost negligible, but still, it seems unforgivably stupid to use it at all if they have a non-ionizing solution that works. If each scan increases your risk of a fatal cancer by 0.000001%, and 300,000,000 people fly through the U.S. every year, that’s still three people who die and didn’t need to.

  5. I read this as TSA answering the mail on what I’ve seen as a disconnect between their policy and the actual implementation. I fly in/out of SNA fairly frequently, and sometimes they don’t have a true TSA Pre-check line open – generally at the less busy times of the day. During those instances, they give Pre-check passengers a little card that indicates no need to remove shoes and whatnot, but you’re still directed to the AIT machine because the metal detector isn’t on, or is at another security lane, or isn’t manned, or some variation thereof.

    I see it as them saying, “If you have a legitimate need to HAVE to use the metal detector, we’ll fire it up. But if you’re doing so because you just don’t like the AIT machine itself, the technology, or you’re opting out in protest, well, we maintain the right to not cater to your whim.”

    Who decides “legitimate”, I don’t know. And I agree that this is opening themselves up to discrimination lawsuits, but I’m actually kind of glad to see this stricter enforcement. At the risk of being accused of being a “sheeple”, I roll my eyes when passengers opt-out. I get it, you don’t like it. But do you really think the front-line TSA person is noting your protest and reporting back to some higher authority? Nobody cares and you’re just holding up the line.

  6. I would always opt out, I would rather go into a pat down than a machine. Being a bit stubborn I think the TSA are idiots, the US do think that they are more of a target than they actually are sorry to say. The UK are just as bad! Search on Youtube for TSA and see how stupid they are.

  7. Maybe it’s to address staffing numbers to do pat downs when too many TSA staffers are on break, call in sick, etc. I guess it could be some sort of terrorism profiling, but I’d go with the former.

  8. @Adam There is no need for them to “report back” as with anything dealing with gov’t there are 12 ppl counting how many travelers opt-out and THEY report those numbers up the chain. They also report the avg. amt of time it took for each of those pat-downs, the avg amt. of time the person spend waiting for the pat-down and finally correlate all that w/ how many ppl should be manning a station at a given time of the day.

    I have TSA pre-check, so typically doesn’t apply, but when at an airport w/o a line or whatever, I opt-out. I recall a year or so back they spewed some garbage about the level of exposure and why I had an issue w/ it, etc…I asked him if he read the article a few weeks prior where when measured across the U.S., they had machines which were set at/emitting exposure levels 30-100+ times the level they SAY were being emitted.

    I also enjoy the power trips they like to throw w/ a pat down. One threatened to get a supervisor and I may have to wait 15 minutes for him to arrive. I told him “you should have him here, I think you’ll be in more hot water than I would be for wasting his time”. All over raising my arms too early for his liking and answering all the pre pat-down questions before he could ask them. The supervisor was never called. I guess he washed-out of candidate school for being a cop or security guard. lol

  9. PreCheck is great but I have found TSA is starting to “randomly” select passengers for the AIT screening. What good does your money and fingerprints do if you still have to go through that thing every once in a while?

  10. I always opt out of the AIT. I used to be a federal officer and learned how to do full body searches, so I notice when they don’t do a good job in the pat down/search, but I never say anything about it. I can see where the AIT machine would more reliably detect weapons, but I personally don’t want to be exposed to any unnecessary radiation. My eldest child is 12, so they haven’t been asked to go through yet. I hope they’ll continue to let my children opt out as they get older. I would even be willing to go through the AIT myself as long as my children don’t have to.

  11. Using these machines is an excellent way to burn the etheric level of the body, which can never be restored or healed. As others have reported, opting out is often still required at airports without PreCheck or at times when the service is not offered. I’ve also been randomly selected for screening at two different airports this year, and they expect the person to go into that toxic machine when the bell goes off. Thanks, no. The more sheeple that don’t argue or refuse, the more power the fear-mongers seem to gain.

  12. @Carl, I hear your erythrocytes can become dephlogisticated in these machines, too. But I always pick up some 30X DHMO from my apothecary before traveling, so hopefully it’s all a wash.

  13. What MB says. Those machines are dangerous. They’re in use without proper testing of the longterm effects. I ALWAYS opt out. I would be happy to miss a flight due to opting out. I won’t visit Australia currently so far as I understand they don’t give the right to opt out of machines I consider dangerous.

  14. Just watch these stupid TSA agents getting higher prevalence of cancer in the future due to their exposure to these machines.
    They’re so stupid that they actually believe they’re harmless.

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