A single sentence in a seven-page "Privacy Impact Assessment Update" published Friday by the Department of Homeland Security has wiped away the ability to have the absolute right to opt out of passing through an airport body scanner. The key line: "While passengers may generally decline [Advanced Imaging Technology] screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers." As a TSA rep tells Time, you can still make the request to opt out, but "some passengers will still be required to undergo AIT screenings as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security." The update gives no specifics regarding what would warrant such a forced screening.
At Fusion, Ethan Chiel writes that he posed that very question to the DHS but has yet to hear back. He observes that the policy update seems tied to the rollout of Automatic Target Recognition (ATR) software, which "replaces the individual’s image with that of a generic figure" rather than an essentially naked one. The institution of the software isn't exactly new, however: Congress ordered it in 2012, and NPR reported that effective May 16, 2013, all AIT scanners had ATR capability. At SlashGear, Chris Davies speculates that the "scanners' ability to single out metallic objects hidden around the body" spurred the policy tweak, but he points out the likelihood of a "few headaches" as travelers are told "the only way they can get to their gate is to submit to body scanning." (A sex offender with a stolen boarding pass managed to get through security last month.)