Privacy

Surplus TSA airport scanner missed initial data scrubbing

TSA airport screener

A pesky surplus airport scanner apparently got under the Transportation Security Administration's supervisory radar and made it to a warehouse owned by the state of North Carolina with sensitive data intact, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General.

"During our fieldwork, we determined that TSA and Rapiscan Systems may not have sanitized sensitive security information from one unit's computer system prior to donating it to a state agency," the IG report states. "We promptly informed TSA program officials about the possible security concern. One week later, a TSA official traveled to the state agency's warehouse and removed the unit's hard drive."

The IG's office tracked the scanner via its serial number to a North Carolina Division of Surplus Property warehouse, where it had been shipped before the discrepancy was discovered. The IG's report says the machine had not been used during its travels or its stay at the storage facility.

The Rapiscan Secure 1000 SP in question was one of 251 scanners retired by TSA almost two years ago because of controversy over the images they produced of airline passengers as they walked through security checkpoints. The agency faced withering criticism from Congress and the public for the machines' graphic depiction of passengers' naked bodies.

In January 2013, TSA Administrator John Pistole ended a $5 million contract with Rapiscan for the company's Secure 1000 SP scanner. TSA and Rapiscan's parent, OSI Systems, reached an agreement to end the use of the backscatter X-ray devices because the company said the system would not meet a 2013 deadline for installing automated target recognition software, which replaces the picture of a nude body with a cartoon-like representation.

Through the General Services Administration's GSAXcess Web platform, TSA has been offering the scanners as surplus equipment to state and local agencies. DHS regulations require the units to be scrubbed of sensitive data before they're released.

As of Aug. 29, TSA had transferred 165 units to other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, according to the IG's report. Despite the single unscrubbed scanner, TSA had complied with property transfer requirements and plans to continue to make the units available to state and local agencies through GSAXcess, the report states.

The Secret Service and the National Institute of Standards and Technology each acquired one unit, while the U.S. Mint acquired two. State property surplus agencies and local law enforcement agencies acquired a total of 161 units. The IG report says TSA will continue to provide the units for transfer, but any remainders will be destroyed if demand dwindles.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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