The TSA Opting-Out of Opt-Outs: The New TSA Full-Body Scanner Guidelines and Travelers' Right to Privacy

May 2, 2016

Imagine—your taxi arrives at the airport terminal, you quickly check your bags, and then join hundreds of other passengers in line for security screening. The line seems to be moving even more slowly than usual, and you glare ahead when you notice the hold up—Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”) officials removing snakes and tortoises from a passenger’s pants. This bizarre scenario made headlines in 2011 after a traveler attempted to sneak seven exotic reptiles onto his plane 1 and full-body scanners discovered the snakes at the TSA checkpoint. Full-body scanners not only uncover snakes, skulls, and chastity belts, but also firearms and other dangerous items. In 2014, more than two thousand firearms were successfully discovered at TSA check points. However, in 2015 a leaked TSA report suggested that, “TSA screeners missed 95 percent of mock explosives and banned weapons smuggled through checkpoints by screeners testing the systems.” While TSA critics repeated their calls to reform or disband the agency, the TSA responded with a different solution. Six months after this information came to light, the TSA reformed regulations surrounding full body scanners. Full-body scanners, or Advanced Imaging Technology (“AIT”), are already used in most United States airports. On December 18, 2015, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a Privacy Impact Assessment Update for TSA AIT. Under the new regulations, TSA officers may require AIT screening for some passengers in order to maintain transportation security.