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Since 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has spent $160 million on scanners to identify passengers which may be carrying weapons. These scanners, however, do not perform as well as was originally believed.

Politico reports that the TSA has spent $120 million on scanners, which are still in use at the nation’s airports. The remaining $40 million was spent on the controversial “naked” scanners, which yielded an anatomically correct image of passengers’ bodies. The machines were removed from service in May 2013 after passengers complained about the invasion of privacy.

Advanced imaging technologies are a relatively new capability used in people-screening systems. Used at airports and other sensitive environments, they were believed to detect metallic as well as nonmetallic contraband. One such system, the Rapiscan Secure 1000 full-body scanner, was widely installed at airport checkpoints in the United States from 2009 until 2013. Independent audits have found that the system provides weak protection against determined adversaries. It is possible to conceal knives, guns, and explosives from detection by attacking properties of the device’s backscatter X-ray technology.

According to Home Land Security News Wire, a display of the mock weapons and explosives which investigators were able to get through the scanners included various size folding knives, a kitchen knife, explosive-less hand grenades, a handled awl, a lighter, handguns, ammunition, a shotgun shell, various bludgeons, and a nunchaku.

Additionally, malicious software and hardware can diminish the effectiveness, safety, and privacy of the device. The auditors’ Findings about the  mixed record of the Secure 1000 carries lessons on the design, evaluation, and operation of advanced imaging technologies.  

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