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In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the need for heightened security in all aspects, especially for airports, created reciprocal tensions amongst air passengers as resentful Americans looked to President George W. Bush for answers. As the Homeland Security Alert Code escalated in threat level and airline ticket sales continued to plummet, only the assurance of a new security system could offer a temporary saving grace for airlines in the United States. In response, body scanners arose with the intentions and promises offering speedy checking times and processing large volumes of people at once, however, the implementation of these scanners comes with a hefty list of consequences. Although doing away with body scanners entirely is probably not feasible, we should limit and reduce their usage in the US airport security model because the costs outweigh the benefits, they cause privacy and health concerns, and there are much better alternatives to add and even replace them. I analyzed sources from departments in the United States government, including the Department of Homeland Security, and among the leading scientific journals, most notably the Journal of Transportation Security and the Law and Security Review. In approaching this question from varying angles, I concentrated my research on sources offering general information about the Israeli and American airport security models, sources arguing in favor of low-tech solutions, sources concerning true public opinion, and sources describing the effectiveness of mixing security techniques. The body scanners are extremely expensive considering the current TSA’s budget proposals and the Homeland Security section of the US budget. For all that the manufacturers claim about the scanners, especially speedy scanning rates and the complete detection of explosives and triggers on the body, they have not lived up to expectations set by the manufacturers. In addition, the body scanners work by emitting low-dose backscatter radiation, and there are concerns about possible long-term health effects. Privacy issues have also arisen in response to evidence suggesting that sensitive photographs taken by the scanners have been kept despite the manufacturer’s reassurances. Although the US has poured much money into the body scanners, all is not lost, as there are still a myriad of other alternatives that can be explored to ensure the safety of airport passengers and workers. Among these options include: behavioral detection techniques, the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System (CAPPS), the privatization of airport security, improved baggage screening techniques, Express Checks for frequent flyers, a profile for illicit drug traffickers and sky-jackers, and a special interviewing process for identifying potential threats.

Publication Date


Subject Major(s)

Political Science

Current Academic Year


Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Faye Prichard


Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program

Is Part Of

VCU Undergraduate Research Posters


© The Author(s)

A Broken Model:  Solving America's Airport Security System