By Kim Zetter
A company that supplies controversial passenger-screening machines for U.S. airports is under suspicion for possibly manipulating tests on privacy software designed to prevent the machines from producing graphic body images.
The Transportation Security Administration sent a letter Nov. 9 to the parent company of Rapiscan, the maker of backscatter machines, requesting information about the testing of the software to determine if there was malfeasance.
The machines use backscatter radiation to detect objects concealed beneath clothes. But after complaints from privacy groups and others that the machines produce graphic images of passenger’s bodies, the government ordered the machines be outfitted with privacy software by June to replace the invasive images with more generic ones that simply show a chalk-like outline of a body.
While L-3 Communications, the maker of another brand of scanners used in airports, successfully developed the privacy software for its machines, Rapiscan was having problems with its software, according to Bloomberg.
The testing of the software, done earlier this year to determine if it met privacy requirements, was conducted by a third party, so it’s not immediately clear how Rapiscan might have manipulated the tests.
At a hearing on Thursday before the House Transportation Security Subcommittee, Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) asked John Sanders, assistant administrator for TSA’s office of security capabilities, this very question. Sanders replied obliquely that “before [a test] gets underway, we might believe the system is on one configuration when it’s not in that configuration.”
Sanders said that TSA has no evidence yet that the vendor did manipulate the tests, but is looking into the matter.