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January 4, 2010

This is your body on an airport scanner

Transportation Security Administration   

Here's an example of the images that would be seen by a Transportation Security Administration officer operating one of the TDA's advanced whole-body image screening devices.

Some folks think such technology will bring the end of civilization as we know it. I don't see what the big deal is. If it will do a better job of detecting explosives than a conventional screening device -- and experts say it will -- why not use whole-body scanners on every passenger? That way there will be no questions about discrimination or profiling.

More on the issue in this morning's Getting There column in the Baltimore Sun.


Posted by Michael Dresser at 7:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Air travel


Or maybe this video shows what the TSO looking at the video actually sees:

I don't know, why do responsible doctors try to limit the number of x-rays and other scans they give their patients?

These machines don't bother me personally. I flew out of Heathrow a few years back and they had one of these machines there testing it out. I had the option to wait in line for a traditional scan or skip the line to go through one of these.

That being said, just because I don't care doesn't mean there aren't serious privacy concerns. It IS a big deal to a lot of people. And frankly, the amount of security theater involved with flights is a tad bit ridiculous.

I carried snow shoes (metal clawed feet), and an Ice Axe on my bag on Amtrak the other day on my way home from vacation. Nobody cared, seemed concerned, etc. Could I have used them as a weapon? Yes. Was I going to? No.

On a plane, I would have had to stow that cargo because it's a weapon. Yet someone on a plane could easily fabricate a weapon out of materials already on a plane (certainly one more dangerous than a safety razor).

This NYT blog post from 2007 still seems pretty accurate today:

Due to several surgical procedures, I have wire in my chest, my back and both legs. Every time I flew it meant holding people up so they could scan me, pat me down, wand me, etc.

I have been scanned by the new technology and find it faster and less intrusive than the old way. I don't care about the image as long as it doesn't come up where other travelers can see it. And if it gives a more complete scan so that it becomes harder to store explosives or other potentially hazardous materials I am with you! Let's get it every where. I think it will speed things up while still providing more in depth information to keep us all safer from thosewho would harm us.

I think people would feel more confortable if there were some assurance that the people doing the screening were gender concordant as they are now. Men don't pat down women, women don't pat down men. I haven't heard any indication that the same consideration would be used with these scanners.

But, I still think that they need to reduce the amount of baggage people carry on to planes and look at other airport security measures. I have friends who work at an airport who tell me that paying off the cleaning staff to sneak something past security wouldn't take much money and the cleaning staff goes through almost no security at all.

what is the world comming to when we have to put our bodies in a scanner that isnt all that effective anyways. I have talked to several ppl who say that they still have to go through the whole wand and stuff anyways and then through the machine so whats the point. This is a major breech of privacy as far as i am concerned and will have a major impact on my decision of if i fly anymore or not.


In addition to the "naked humiliation" factor, another issue is the radiation emitted from these scanners.

A study conducted by Boian Alexandrov (and colleagues) at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico indicated that terahertz radiation (used in these scanners) has the potential to literally rip apart or unzip double-stranded DNA. This, in turn, creates bubbles that could interfere with critical processes (like DNA replication and gene expression).

I don't really don't mind being exposed nude for the airport pervs, but having my DNA unraveled ... that's another issue altogether! :-)

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About Michael Dresser
Michael Dresser has been an editor, reporter and columnist with The Sun longer than Baltimore's had a subway. He's covered retailing, telecommunications, state politics and wine. Since 2004, he's been The Sun's transportation writer. He lives in Ellicott City with his wife and travel companion, Cindy.

His Getting There column appears on Mondays. Mike's blog will be a forum for all who are interested in highways, transit and other transportation issues affecting Baltimore, Maryland and the region.

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