TSA Creates New Mandatory Screening Process “For Some Passengers”

On December 18, 2015, TSA issued a Privacy Impact Assessment relating to a change in TSA policy regarding the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, which have TSA agents identify passengers as male or female (“blue” or “pink”) and then flag any “anomalies” on their bodies, including body parts.  These scanners are programmed to discriminate against transgender passengers, as they do not account for transgender anatomy.  Some passengers have chosen to bypass the AIT scanner in favor of a physical screening, but under the new policy, “TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers.”

Concerned about the impact of this policy on transgender passengers, I wrote TSA.


Dear Ms. Vaughan,

On December 18, 2015, your office issued the above-referenced Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) Update for TSA Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT)  (DHS/TSA/PIA-032(d)).  That document revealed “a change to the operating protocol regarding the ability of individuals to opt-out of AIT screening in favor of physical screening.”  Pursuant to this change, “TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers.”

This is a sweeping change, and the PIA fails to explain its potential impact.  I am particularly concerned with how TSA’s new authority will be used against transgender passengers, who already suffer rampant discrimination at the hands of TSA officials. The AIT screening process is demonstrably discriminatory against transgender passengers; the scanners use a blue button and a pink button which is selected by TSA officials.  The buttons calibrate the machine for cisgender anatomy and often flag “anomalies” when presented with the anatomy of transgender passengers, such as a woman (pink button) who has a penis, or a man (blue button) who has breasts.  Because which button is pressed is at the discretion of the TSA agent, “anomalies” may also be flagged if the agent incorrectly genders an individual, such as pressing the blue button for a woman.  Previously, some transgender passengers chose to avoid this discriminatory screening process by opting for the physical screening, but under the new procedure, they may no longer have that opportunity.

Accordingly, I have the following question: what assurances do transgender travelers have that this new authority will not be used to harass them, especially in light of TSA’s woeful record of discrimination against transgender people?

— Emily T. Prince, Esq.