After years of complaints by passengers and members of Congress, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has said it would begin removing the full-body scanners — that produce revealing images of airline travellers — from airports beginning this summer.

The agency said it cancelled a contract, originally worth $40 million, with the maker of the scanners, Rapiscan, after the company failed to meet a congressional deadline for new software that would protect passengers’ privacy. The scanners have been criticised for being too invasive and are the subject of lawsuits from privacy groups.

The TSA began deploying the scanners in 2010, after a 2009 Christmas Day attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight by setting off explosives hidden in his underwear. The TSA said 174 of the machines are being used at airport checkpoints around the country. Another 76 are housed at a TSA storage facility in Texas.

Rapiscan will be required to pay all the costs to remove the scanners. In a statement, Deepak Chopra, the company’s President, said the decision to cancel the contract and remove the scanners was a “a mutually satisfactory agreement with the TSA”. The company said scanners would be used at other government agencies.

The removal of the scanners does not mean that all full-body scanners will be removed from security checkpoints. A second type of full-body scanner does not produce revealing images. Instead, it makes an avatar-like projection on security screens. The TSA said those machines, which should be in airports by June, will allow quicker scans than those using X-rays.

“This means faster lanes for the traveller and enhanced security,” said the agency.

— New York Times News Service

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