Full-Body Airport Scanners – A Hazard to Health?

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?

Body-Scanners take only 30 secs - privacy issues aside, how safe are they?

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.

Millimeter Scanners -images are in 3D

Backscatter Scans -the 2D images show less resolution

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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3 responses

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by janice davis. janice davis said: Full-Body Airport Scanners – A Hazard to Health? « Doctor2008′s Weblog: The millimeter wave scanners emit less rad… http://bit.ly/9hpCKH […]

  2. Although airport security in the US gives an option for passengers to either be body scanned or to be body searched(pat down), in reality everybody’s herded to the body-scan machines.
    Your point about about there being an option is probably not practised at all!

  3. Salt lake City Dentist | Reply

    That is very insightful. It gave me some ideas and I’ll be placing them on my blog eventually. I’m bookmarking your site and I’ll be back again. Thanks again!

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