Airport scanners, including backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, can both see through clothes.
Backscatter scanners use low energy x-rays that reflect the x-rays back to the machine, while millimeter wave scanners use low-energy non-ionizing radiofrequency waves to see through clothes.
Both millimeter-wave and backscatters scanners are full-body scanners that are used in airports around the world.
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Airport Scanners Can’t See Through Underwear
You now know that airport scanners can see through clothes, but are they capable of seeing through underwear.
Airport scanners are designed to be unable to see through underwear. Instead, the outlines of underwear can be seen.
Having said that, TSA agents have sometimes reported that a hazy image of private parts can be seen.
Can Airport Scanners Detect Drugs Hidden in Clothes?
Airport scanners work by using x-ray technology to construct detailed images of whatever is scanned.
This means that an airport scanner is not able to outright detect drugs hidden in clothing.
However, based on the range of energy that passes through an airport scanner, items either come up as orange, green, or blue/black.
This represents organic material (orange), non-organic materials (green), or metals and hard plastics (blue/black), and can be an indication if a passenger is traveling with drugs.
So, as part of the TSA’s security screening procedures, if airport security personnel sees a passenger has something in their clothing, they will personally intervene and investigate the contents to determine if they are forbidden or not.
Airport Scanners Can See Through Several Layers of Clothing
Recently, in China, a full-body scanner developed using space radar technology has been shown to be able to see through 30 items of clothing.
The scariest thing about this isn’t only the number of garments the scanner can see through, but also how it can see through clothes and produce images with remarkable clarity.
In fact, the scanner can very clearly see a small logo on a person’s underwear even if they were wearing a coat
What Airport Scanners Can See Through
Besides clothing, airport scanners can see through a passenger’s luggage.
The scanner constructs detailed images of a bag’s contents to ensure that any passenger attempts to conceal or hide forbidden items can be detected.
Airport Scanners Can’t See Through Some Materials
There are many materials that airport scanners can’t see through.
Airport scanners may be able to detect metallic and non-metallic materials, but they are incapable of seeing inside them depending on the type of material, as well as its thickness.
Airport scanners are therefore unable to see through metals like gold, platinum, tungsten, and many other metals.
Scanners are also not able to see through body cavities, aluminum foil, and other materials like lead and crystals.
Airport Scanners & Privacy Concerns
Understandably and quite rightly, passengers have privacy concerns when stepping through airport scanners.
No passenger wants an airport scanner to be able to see through their clothes and feel exposed.
The good news is that in the USA, Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) software is used, which only displays generic body outlines. This has been in place as of June 1, 2013, at all U.S. airports.
Software imaging technology can also mask specific body parts
While the TSA has claimed to have taken steps to address privacy objections, the evidence points to the contrary.
One such example is the TSA claiming that any images captured are not stored. But the U.S. Marshals Service has admitted that it had previously saved thousands of images.
Other reports of full-body scanner images being improperly and even illegally saved have also emerged.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).