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Recently there was a lot of news around an “opt out day” with respect to the American TSA using scanners to take nude pictures of travelers. The idea was that if people opted out on one of the busiest travel days in the USA it would bring lines to a stand-still and perhaps cause the TSA to rethink their invasive “security” procedures that have not been proven to do anything to improve security.
Of course, if you are traveling in the USA and opt out of the nude picture machine then a friendly TSA agent is going to do a pat down that many say is sexually molestation. To perform this pat down on all of the passengers that the TSA puts through their naked body scanners would have brought security lines to a halt, however several people reported that the TSA simply closed the naked picture machines down on the opt out day. There is a good reason you should always opt out of these machines however.
When you go through the TSA naked body scanning machines you are separated from your laptop for a lot more time. It is very common for thieves to take laptops either before they go through the x-ray machine or after they have gone through if you are delayed getting through. When you are selected to be photographed nude you are diverted away from your laptop and other belongings for an even longer amount of time and the TSA does nothing to ensure your valuables do not get stolen.
Don’t get the impression that you will know that you are in a nude picture machine because you take off your clothes, you don’t. The equipment uses a type of scanning called “back-scatter” and even though you have your clothes on it can take a picture of you as if you did not have any clothes on. If you are about to go though the normal x-ray machine and the agent asks you to go to another machine, ask if you can opt out. They will not volunteer the information or tell you that they are about to show you naked to one of their officers. They also will not tell you that your valuables will be left unattended, and potentially out of your sight for an even longer period of time.
Be warned, if you opt out of the full body scan the TSA is going to touch you in places that your parents told you not to let anyone touch, but if you don’t opt out there is a chance that someone else will be stealing your valuables while the TSA is screening you.
For now on, The TSA can fondle me, but I am keeping my eyes on my laptop. According to a 2009 article at http://computersight.com/communication-networks/security/lost-in-line-improving-laptop-security-with-automatic-identification-technology/ “on average, at the nation’s 106 largest commercial airports, over 12,000 laptops are lost or stolen each week – a staggering 600,000 laptops annually… 40% of all airport laptop losses take place at the security checkpoint.”
You really do have a choice. You can let TSA fondle you or someone else palm your belongings. Currently TSA doesn’t have a security plan for making sure you get your belongings back after you put them on the belt. The theft of your personal items is not in the scope of TSA security and there is no plan to make you safer with respect to that. Each time you go through the TSA porn scanner you put your valuables at more risk.
Director of Technical Education
Cyber Threat Security Center – ESET LLC
Author ESET Research, ESET