The federal government is quietly removing full-body X-ray scanners from seven major airports and replacing them with a different type of machine that produces a cartoon-like outline instead of the naked images that have been compared to a virtual strip search.
The Transportation Security Administration says it is making the switch in technology to speed up lines at crowded airports, not to ease passenger privacy concerns. But civil liberties groups hope the change signals that the equipment will eventually go to the scrap heap.
The machines are being pulled out of New York's LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, Chicago's O'Hare, Los Angeles International and Boston Logan, as well as airports in Charlotte, N.C., and Orlando, Fla.
Some of the backscatter scanners have gone to airports in Mesa, Ariz., Key West, Fla., and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The TSA is still deciding where to send others.
The switch is being made as the TSA is under pressure from Congress. Legislation approved in February gave the agency until June to get rid of the X-ray scanners or upgrade them with software that produces only a generic outline of the human form, not a blurry naked image.
Besides eliminating privacy concerns, the machines require fewer people to operate, take up less space in crowded security zones and complete a scan in less than two seconds, allowing screening lines to move faster.
The improvements make sense. The scanners provide less details about a person's body and offers a faster scan of each passenger. Those are two benefits everyone should appreciate.