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TSA pulls the plug on 'naked' X-ray scanners after maker fails to guarantee privacy

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OSI Systems says it can't build decent software by June

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The TSA is ending its $5 million contract with one manufacturer of so-called naked airport body scanners because it can’t get satisfactory software in place that produces less-revealing passenger images. Bloomberg reports that OSI Systems’ inability to meet a June 1st congressional deadline for the privacy software (called automated target recognition, or ATR), is leading the agency to remove the scanners from airports. OSI had previously said that it would be able to meet the deadline, and in November faced allegations that it may have falsified test data.

The TSA has already begun to remove backscatter scanners from airports

The TSA isn’t planning to stop using full-body scanners, however. After it ships off the 174 OSI Rapiscan machines it still has in use to other government agencies, it will shift to 60 scanners from L-3 Communications Holdings — the agency’s other supplier. OSI will stop developing software for the scanner, called the 1000SP, and record a one-time $2.7 million charge on its books for the quarter ended Dec. 31st, but its overall agreement with TSA for imaging technology will stay in place. It's worth noting that the Rapiscan and L-3 machines use different approaches to scanning — the former uses backscatter X-ray technology, while the latter relies on millimeter waves. L-3 was able to produce working ATR software back in 2011, and the TSA has already begun to remove backscatter scanners from airports, shifting toward its millimeter wave scanners late last year.

As the TSA makes alternative plans for scanning passengers, the March deadline for public hearings on the controversial machines draws closer. Under the Administrative Procedures Act, the TSA was required to hear from the public before introducing any policy that could significantly impact citizens’ rights. The agency was originally ordered to hold the hearings in 2011, but remained silent until EPIC petitioned the court to force compliance last July.