TSA screenings: What protections do you have?

Full-body scans and enhanced pat-downs have become America’s “primary screening” technique, but have also generated a rising tide of criticism for being too invasive. At each of the 68 major airports where the 385 new full-body scanners are in place, passengers will be directed to them, says Sarah Horowitz, spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Here's what to expect – and what protections you can demand:

1. The full-body scan

Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union Tribune / AP / File
TSA employee Anthony Brock (left) demonstrates a new full-body scanner at San Diego's Lindbergh Field on Sept. 1, to fellow TSA employee Andres Lozano (right).

A TSA agent – let’s call him or her Agent Pat – will tell you to remove jackets, belts, wallets, bulky jewelry, money, keys, cellphones, and anything else in your pockets, enter the scanner, put your feet in designated spaces, put your hands on or above your head, and hold still.

The machine will use either X-ray backscatter or millimeter waves to look through your clothes and create an outline of your body.

Some passengers report feeling a buzzing or vibration in the air; others feel nothing. The scan lasts for 10 to 20 seconds, during which any metal, ceramic, or other dense materials will show up on an image of you that will be seen by another TSA agent – Agent Chris.

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