We all have our gripes about airport security — it's too slow, it's invasive, you have to take your shoes off. But this might be the worst offense yet. Those devices scanning your body? They might not always detect weapons as well as they should.
Take a look at these headlines. They're all citing a new report that says a full-body scanner used by the Transportation Security Administration up until just last year could easily be tricked — allowing guns, knives and even explosives to slip past.
The study was put together by researchers from UC San Diego, the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins, who found the scanners could be duped simply by placing a weapon off to the side of the body or encasing it under a plastic shield. (Video via KNSD)
As PCWorld explains: "Two methods hid a .380 pistol from front and back scans: carefully affixing the gun to the outside of someone's leg with tape or sewing it inside the leg of the pants."
Yeah, not exactly James Bond-level stuff. And it might not have taken an international superspy to slip a weapon past.
In 2012, Jonathan Corbett, a blogger for TSA Out of Our Pants!, posted a video demonstrating roughly the same thing: "If you have a metallic object on your side it will be the same color as the background and therefore completely invisible."
Once they had the machine in hand, they showed that a pistol, a knife and even the explosive C-4 could be smuggled through while appearing nearly identical to a clean scan.
That all sounds scary. But the device was removed from service last year, right? So, problem solved?
Well, not exactly. As Wired notes, when those machines were decommissioned, they were sold to courthouses and jails around the U.S. So they could still be in use.
And the machines that took their place — known as millimeter wave scanners — might not be much better.
According to Gizmodo, "Corbett's methods also appeared to work on millimeter wave scanners, so there's reason to believe the researchers methods would as well, though they were unable to acquire a millimeter wave scanner for further testing."
Now, we should note the team wasn't just questioning the technology used by the TSA, but also the agency's judgment.
Businessweek quotes one of the study's co-authors, saying: "What does this say about how these scanners were tested and acquired in the first place? It says there's something wrong with the government's process."
Interestingly, as these headlines show, when the Rapiscan scanners were finally removed, it seems it was not because they weren't effective, but more so because — showing the nude outline of passengers — they were seen as invasive.
The team's findings were presented Thursday at a San Diego security conference.
This video includes images from Getty Images.