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Backscatter X-rays and Airline Security

Updated on April 5, 2007

Every once in a while, a new experimental technology is launched that makes people worried. In this case, the backscatter x-ray machine. This is a technology that allows security guards at airports to see through clothing.

However, the images garnered from a backscatter x-ray machine are TV 14 at best. As you can see here, it's like you are imagining the person in a Catwoman costume or other body-sized piece of spandex. Despite the machine's somewhat embarrassing ability to reveal a person's true form, it is quite effective at finding a bulky and or dense item, such as a gun or other concealed items. In other words, it is a lot better than a metal detector ever could be.

Of course, you are probably wondering how safe can such an x-ray device be? Believe it or not, it would take over 2,500 exposures before a person would be exposed to a dangerous level. That's hard to believe considering that backscatter x-rays are strong enough to penetrate 12 inches of steel and pick up detail through 50 feet of cargo hold. Let's hope this isn't something we found out is bad for us when it is too late.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) started putting backscatter x-rays in various airports throughout the nation, and it is getting people nervous. Imagine being asked to walk through a machine, and you are not shown what the guards are seeing on the other side. Rumors have begun to surface that some new technology can actually see exactly what you look like naked. You can imagine where such thoughts will lead. "Now they have naked pictures of me. Are they going to post them on some porno site?"

The ACLU and Electronic Privacy Information Center has equivocated these machines to a "virtual strip search". However, the backscatter x-ray is only for those who require secondary screening, which means that travelers can avoid the pat-down. Ever since the TSA has been doing pat-downs, there have been constant complaints that guards were "getting fresh" and too touchy feely with this security procedure.

In fact, the company that manufactures backscatter x-rays, AS&E, already has several of these scanners in prisons. They have discovered that the inmates prefer backscatter x-ray scans versus traditional pat-downs. Something tells me that passengers might prefer an alternative as well.

Something also tells me that backscatter x-rays are here to stay, whether we like them or not. Brand-new backscatter x-rays are on their way to major airports like JFK and LAX. Even though we live in an age of increased (sometimes almost unnecessary) security about 9/11, it is reassuring that a device can be used that won't be too revealing.


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