When it was reported in several news websites on May 7th that a US airport security screener allegedly beat up his colleague for poking fun at the size of his private parts during testing of full-body image scanners (see here), it brought up the question many have been asking..are these scanners (there are aready 450 in US airports alone) a violation of privacy and human rights?
No, say US airport security. That’s because the personnel that guide you in the booth are not privy to the images seen on the screen, which is in a remote site. Furthermore, the images blur out the face to enhance privacy and the images cannot be stored. Human rights activists still scream foul play – what’s to prevent these assurances from being surreptitiously removed in future?
It all started when an Ethiopian passenger on a domestic US flight supposedly linked to terrorists strapped explosives in his underwear on Christmas Day which escaped detection by airport security. Since then, these full-body airport scanners have been introduced in all major US airports.
Privacy issues aside, are these scanners a health hazard, in particular in terms of radiation?
These full-body scanners fall into two main categories: millimeter wave and backscatter. The first directs radio waves over a body and measures the energy reflected back to render a 3D image. The latter is a low-level X-ray machine that creates 2D images. These scanners are electronic versions of a body search and can detect non-metallic weapons & explosives on body surfaces. They cannot detect stuff placed in body cavities, so look out for intrarectal devices next!!
The millimeter wave scanners emit less radiation than a typical cellphone while the backscatter device exposes the body to as much radiation as 2 minutes of flying. Both these devices are approved by FDA to meet health and safety standards, so there appears to be no health issues involved.
So what if a passenger is still not willing to submit to the scan on privacy reasons or on religious grounds? The US Transport Security Administration maintains that the scan is optional, those not willing to undergo them can opt to choose a body search instead. Which is not much of an option, really!
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