TSA denies it turned off body-scanners on “Opt-Out” Day — but where’s the proof?

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By Christopher Elliott

Two weeks after declaring National Opt-Out Day a failure and renaming it TSA Appreciation Day, the agency charged with protecting our transportation systems has formally denied it turned off its full-body scanners in order to squelch the pre-Thanksgiving protests.

“As soon as the media started reporting that Opt-Out Day was a bust, reports started coming in from blogs stating that TSA had intentionally shut down the Advanced Imaging Technology machines,” the agency says in a blog post. “This claim is utterly and completely false as AIT operations were normal throughout the holiday travel period.”

TSA fails to provide credible evidence of scanner use

There’s just one little problem. In denying that it cheated in order to disrupt Opt-Out Day, TSA has offered no credible evidence — other than its own word — that the scanners were working.

Rather than presenting us with hard evidence that the machines were turned on and being used (memos, directives, even testimony from screeners on the ground) TSA resorts to spin and conjecture.

“We tried to think of some reasons that people might have come to this conclusion,” the TSA blog muses.

It goes on to say that only 430 machines are deployed at 70 airports. It suggests that might be why no one saw full-body scanners.

But no one complained about the lack of body scanners, so it’s not entirely clear why TSA is talking about the absence of scanners.

Then TSA says even at airports with the so-called AIT machines, they are not yet deployed at all checkpoint lanes. Again, this has nothing to do with the reports that the machines were not being used.

Possibility of machines being shut down for routine maintenance

“At times,” it admits, “machines could be shut down for routine maintenance, or maintenance issues.”

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Ah, now we’re getting somewhere.

So TSA isn’t denying that some of its machines might have been turned off. It isn’t even saying the reports of machines being powered down are false.

It adds,

If the technology just arrived at the airport, it’s possible passengers would see a unit in the checkpoint but not in use. Several things have to happen before we can start using them, they have to be installed, tested and we have to fully train officers on how to use the technology.

Again, none of this contradicts the multiple eyewitness reports that the body scanners were turned off. It just puts a TSA spin on them. (Here’s our guide to handling the TSA when you travel.)

TSA doesn’t really dispute anything. Instead, it offers a second and true set of facts that it believes contradict the reports. But they don’t.

In order for its claims that the scanners were used on Opt-Out Day as they were any day to be believable, it would need to show us the memo that went out to every airport, instructing TSA officers to keep the machines on during Opt-Out Day. I would even settle for a redacted version.

How about a firsthand report from a TSO working that day, saying, yes, we used the scanners like we do any day and no we didn’t cut corners? I’d even settle for an anonymous comments from a TSO on this blog.

I don’t believe the TSA. I think it instructed its screeners to take certain liberties on Opt-Out Day.

The non-denial it issued today doesn’t change my mind. Nor should it change yours.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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