The head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says that software improvements will one day eliminate privacy concerns of air travelers subject to full-body scans.
That day, however, has not yet arrived, TSA Administrator John Pistole told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this morning. Thus all air travelers will either submit to a full body scan at airports that have machines or undergo an enhanced pat-down—which even Pistole said "was more invasive than I'm used to"—or they will not fly.
Expanded deployment of the full-body scanners following last Christmas's underwear bomber plot has forced more air travelers to choose between the machines and pat-downs. That has fueled public outrage over both options, in particular amid recently enhanced pat-downs.
Critics, ranging from individual fliers to privacy organizations, have called the images produced by full body scanners a "virtual strip search" and described the new pat-down as tantamount to sexual assault. Protestors have even organized a "National Opt-Out Day" for next Wednesday on the day before Thanksgiving, traditionally the busiest travel day of the year, in hopes of creating bottlenecks at busy security checkpoints.
"I see us in an interim period here right now," he testified, "where we're using the best techniques and tactics given the intelligence, enabled by the best technology."
Pistole called on public cooperation and understanding as TSA, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, the Department of Energy, and the national laboratories researches and develops the security checkpoint of the future.