TSA Policing Media’s Use of Scanner Images

SF Weekly

We knew the TSA was sensitive about this whole scanner thing, but not this sensitive: This morning, SF Weekly got a phone call and a wrist-slap from the Transportation Security Administration’s press department. It turns out the TSA doesn’t like the image of body scans we used with our piece last week about how the scanners do not bombard people with an unhealthy dose of radiation.

The call was a bit odd coming from a government agency being widely accused of acting like Big Brother run amok. Especially when the story quoted U.C. San Francisco radiation experts defending the scanners as safe. But I guess we could say the agency’s true feelings about this public relations debacle have now been laid bare.

The woman on the phone told SF Weekly that they were not accurate images of the scanner, and urged us to either indicate to readers that those aren’t accurate pictures or use the officially approved scanner images.

We called TSA regional spokesman Nico Melendez for clarification, and he told us the agency is simply trying to keep the information given to the public about the scanner images accurate. “We’re not monitoring, but when we come across [an inaccurate image] we try to let them know it might be misleading.”

He says the photo we used is from a press tour several years ago of the TSA’s technology center in New Jersey, which, much to the TSA’s chagrin, is still being widely reused by media. “That is the image with no privacy filter installed, absolutely not the image our officers see,” Melendez wrote in an email.

The image makes people look like little fat balls of dough, i.e. not very flattering at all:

The correct image from the backscatter scanners, posted at the top of this article, is actually much more artistic: It could pass for a hieroglyphic series on a tomb wall. Is that guy wearing a Mexican wrestling mask?

The millimeter wave technology makes you look like a silver-doused statue. The TSA must have wised up about using plump models in these demo pictures, because this guy looks like he literally has buns of steel. I would almost want a poster-sized printout for posterity.

So, Big Brother has spanked us, we have recanted our sins, and we now pass along the truth.

Everyone happy now?

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