Backscatter X-ray machines courtesy of CNN
Backscatter X-ray machines courtesy of CNN

While going through security at Fort Lauderdale International Airport’s terminal 3 today I did something for the very first time: I opted out. I didn’t do this to be a jerk. I did it because I wasn’t in a hurry, and I saw the airport was using the controversial backscatter X-ray machines (pictured above).

These were introduced after the 2009 Christmas Day bomber and have caused all kinds of uproar with privacy groups since they depict people’s private areas. Since then software has been created to make people look like cartoon characters instead of  humans.

But that’s not why I opted out. I did it because these machines are believed to omit harmful radiation, and I travel so much that I don’t need any more exposure to this.

After I put my belongings on the belt I politely told the TSA agent that I was opting out and he said no problem. He called another agent over who escorted me through a secure area and grabbed my personal belongings after they were screened. He told me he was going to pat me down as he put on gloves. He asked if I wanted it in public or private and I said public was fine. The agent was friendly and thorough and it took about five extra minutes.

I asked if a lot of passengers opt out and he said no except some frequent business travelers and that they should. That surprised me and inspired me to write this post since I think it’s important for everyone to know about the potential harmful effects and to know your rights.

The good news is the government (TSA) has finally terminated the contract with Rapiscan, the company that makes the backscatter X-ray machines, and most units have been removed from airports. The remaining ones will be gone by June 1, 2013.

Here are some links with tons of technical information.

18 Comments On "Why I Opt Out of TSA's Backscatter X-ray Machines and You Should Too"
  1. Jason Z. Guest|

    Great, quick read. It begs the question: what was the total cost of ownership of all decommissioned Rapiscan equipment, and over what period of time? —Jason Guest, Austin, Texas

    1. Winston Smith|

      They are not being decommissioned. They are being moved to Federal facilities(eg court houses, etc).

  2. Greg Anderson|

    As a frequent traveler – I opt out as well. Most agents are pretty good about it.

  3. Aleks|

    I opt out every time. More and more I’m running into the newer-style machines that are like a glass cabin and use different type of rays to scan. However, I opt out not only to avoid unnecessary additional radiation, but also as a small civil protest to the entire style of airport security done in the U.S. and its treatment of citizens as automatically suspicious of something. I find being scanned for non-medical reasons and in order to be permitted to access means of public transit is giving up too much liberty and privacy.

    The fun part is doing this in smaller airports (say, AGS). Sometimes they haven’t had an opt-out in days and are somewhat baffled by why one would want to.

  4. KimB|

    While researching my book, I found out that a cross country flight exposes you to as much radiation as a chest x-ray. Reduce the radiation exposure whenever you can!

  5. Linda Bibb|

    Thanks, I wasn’t aware that it’s possible to opt out. And just in time, too, as I’m flying tomorrow.

    It’s good to know that TSA is removing them from airports, but what about the machines in other countries? Do you know if any will follow TSA’s example?

    1. Johnny Jet|

      I’m not sure about other countries. Sorry!

  6. Sara|

    As a female with 3 joint replacements I have been patted down for a long time, and I get very tired of it. The new style pat downs are very invasive, though they have eased up a bit this year. Privacy isn’t the issue. I like the X-ray machines.

  7. Melissa|

    I have never gone through one I these (especially after working for a security firm and doing research on them). A few years back (before they blurred the faces) I had noticed a trend while waiting to go through security, that more women were being directed to the screen and men and older women through the normal metal detector. When i opted out, i made sure to voice my observation. Several women after me also opted out. Needless to say they weren’t happy and tried to tell us that if we opted out we might have to wait 20 mins to be screened. I’m glad that people know that we have the right to refuse this form of screening.

  8. TJ|

    If the machines that you have to put your hands over your head are so powerful that then can detect paper and buttons in your pocket, what do we need all of the TSA guys for?

  9. J|

    You’re lucky it was only 5 minutes. I opt out every time (if I can’t avoid it by picking the right line) and the last 2 times it took about 15 minutes as they claimed they were “too busy” right now.

  10. Anonymous|

    I have a knee replacement and hate the pat down so I use the machines everytime. my compliant is that they are often NOT staffed so many times this is not possible.

  11. Trav|

    Johnny- Thanks for the great info. Wondering what you think of the ones you see in international airports more. they are more like a tub that you step in and then it sweeps around you, kind of like an MRI.

    Are these also dangerous? Are they also going away? And should we opt out of them?


    1. Johnny Jet|

      They have them in America and I went through one of them today at LAS. I think they are hear for a while and ‘supposedly’ they aren’t dangerous.

  12. Amy|

    I opt out every single time for similar reasons to those of Aleks. I always tell them that I prefer the sexual assault than the circus security theater. I think someone else asked a question about other countries. I have not seen these machines in any other country that I’ve been to, nor have I seen the type of security theater that the TSA does–even in African and Middle Eastern countries. In fact, flying in South Africa a couple of years ago was like flying pre-9/11. My understanding is that they’re allowed in the U.S. because the companies that make the machines contribute to political campaigns in a very significant way.

  13. Bob|

    TSA is a sore subject for me as I have had many horrible experiences in my travels. I opt out every time I can. My right elbow is reconstructed with wire and the machines make me nausious.

  14. Erob Mose|

    “BEWARE” Biologists and physiologists have previously done extensive and meticulous research on X-ray – radiation harmful effects to the human DNA. The startling results of their studies expose life threatening “mutations” to inherent (lineage) DNA genetics. These machines literally rip apart the human DNA!

    A mutation occurs when a DNA gene is damaged or changed in such a way as to alter the genetic message carried by that gene.

    A mutation is an agent of substance that can bring about a permanent alteration to the physical composition of a DNA gene such that the genetic message is changed.

    Radiatiion: High energy radiation from a radioactive material or from X-rays is absorbed by the atoms in water molecules surrounding the DNA. This energy is transferred to the electrons which then fly away from the atom. Left behind is a free radical, which is a “highly dangerous and highly reactive” molecule that attacks the DNA molecule and alters it in many ways!
    Radiation can also cause double strand breaks in the DNA molecule, which the cell’s repair mechanisms cannot put right.

    Quote by New Zealand Security and Intelligence

    Some people fear that airport X-ray machines might damage their films and personal electronic equipment as it goes through the “screening.” This is not the cause????????? The only time X-ray machines might cause damage is when there is “repeated” exposure!

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