Adam Polaski

TSA's New Scanners May Affect Trans People

Filed By Adam Polaski | July 27, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: intersex, scanner, transgender, Transportation Security Administration, TSA

TSAScanners.jpgThe Transportation Security Administration has instituted a new change in its full-body scanners at airport security checkpoints after fierce criticism this year that the old technology amounted to virtual strip-searching. The new technology, reports The LA Times, will show a "generic body outline," and passengers will be additionally searched for anything "suspicious." Passengers will be able to see the same outline that TSA workers see.

The newspaper reports:

-- Anyone who passes through a full-body scanner will see the same body outline that TSA workers see.

-- If no explosives, weapons or suspicious items are detected, the machine flashes "OK" and the passenger is cleared.

-- If something suspicious shows up, more screening would be done.

The National Center for Transgender Equality, however, is concerned.

A photo that appeared alongside the LA Times article displayed the new software screen with a pink or blue button to begin the scanning process. The NCTE says that this could negatively impact trans people. In a press release, the NCTE explains:

Full-body scanners have provoked outcry from the transgender people because of how they "out" transgender people going through airport security, making travel dangerous. These software changes appear likely to reduce the risk of unwanted invasion of privacy; however, aspects of the new software are troubling. In particular, it's not clear that the software updates will change the fact that transgender people are disproportionately selected for invasive pat-downs.


It appears that TSA officers need to select a pink or blue "scan" button based on their perception of a traveler's gender. The new software may identify "anomalies" based on gender-atypical anatomy, rather than only targeting foreign objects. This may be a security trigger which would lead to an invasive pat-down, potentially embarrassing questions and in some cases, biased harassment. NCTE urges the TSA to provide greater clarity for the public on how the new scans work.

By the end of 2010, the TSA was operating 486 scanners in 78 airports. Plans were in the works to add almost 500 more scanners this year.

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california panda | July 27, 2011 6:18 PM

A pink or blue button for a scan based on the agent's "perception" of someone's gender? How marvelously heteronormative and sexist of them. How is a body scan of a male any different than that of a female? Unless of course they are actively TRYING to out crossdressing terrorists. This whole concept is beyond absurd.

Remember this DHS advisory from 2003?

"Terrorists will employ novel methods to artfully conceal suicide devices. Male bombers may dress as females in order to discourage scrutiny. Al-Qaeda operative Richard Reid employed a novel and unique 'shoe bomb' device in an attempt to destroy a transcontinental airliner in December 2001."

So yeah, that actually *IS* an active concern. "Prove you're not trans" is on about the same level as "take off your shoes." Fabulous.

I travel often and have experienced these full body scanners. Some trans people may be negatively affected as with non trans people but not all. But the alternative pat down is something I am not looking forward to at all. I had some anxiety before due to media hype but experienced no biased or rude behavior from tsa employees when traveling. The purpose of these scanners is not to intentionally out or persecute trans people, it is a safety precaution. Yes it is not perfect,yes there are idiots in this world who make it hell on earth for trans people, but we must also look at the situation objectively, there are people who smuggle things on planes.

Justus Eisfeld Justus Eisfeld | July 28, 2011 7:16 AM

I have had my ball implants show up on the new scanner before, with a full pat-down and embarrassing questions as a result. Anybody with implants, a prosthesis or 'packing' is likely to be subject to this degrading experience every single time you want to travel. Really not something to look forward to and yet another attack on the freedom of movement for trans people.
Just because it is not willfully targeting trans people doesn't mean that we are not disproportionately affected.

News headline many of imagine in your sleep:

Transgender passengers more likely to die in aviation accidents