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TSA Airport Security is an Illusion - Backscatter Body Scanners too Risky and Ineffective

Updated on December 4, 2012

This new TSA airport security program is hugely unpopular, many finding at least the first more revealing version a humiliating and degrading experience and obviously can be easily abused. This new screening has resulted in a significant decline in air travel by other Americans.

I could not find information at the website regarding the full-body scanners. However, here is what I found elsewhere. As I looked into this information, I ended up cancelling my trip, because I am a high risk for skin cancer.

Close to 400 back-scatter X-ray machines have been placed in 70 airports and another 1,000 are to be placed by the end of 2011. However, this body imaging technology is misguided, counterproductive, and potentially dangerous, especially for frequent fliers and children.


Radiation risk

This technology is known to produce radiation that has the potential to harm frequent fliers (like airline crew). The American Pilots Association has strongly warned pilots about this, urging them to refuse the full-body scanning.

In a meeting of the Congressional Biomedical Caucus, Dr. David Brenner (Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University) said, the TSA X-ray backscatter machines

  • hit the scalp with "20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA."
  • Most of the radiation hits the top of the head. This is the area of the body where 85% of the most common skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma) is diagnosed to occur.
  • Too much X-ray exposure can "act as a cancer rate multiplier."

Lives touched by melanoma

No objective evaluation

I also learned that TSA is relying on industry studies and manufacturers' specifications, rather than scientific research exams the impact of the TSA X-ray machines on a person's health. I will wait for such evaluations with the more objective results.

Overview report about the scanners


Officials already have admitted that the system wouldn't do what they want – stop a terrorist like the Christmas bomber

  • It is yet unclear whether the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) could have detected the Christmas bomber's weapon in 2009 used in his failed attempt to attack. (This is based on the preliminary TSA information that has been reviewed.)

In a report, titled "An evaluation of airport X-ray backscatter units based on image characteristics," University of California scientists demonstrate that explosives in packages fitting the body contours or along the sides would be hard to detect. The X-ray units "are built to 'see' hard edges and anatomical features," imaging the front and back.

If no valid behavioral or other threat indicator is present, should the TSA screener conduct an aggressive frisking?

See results


Officials already have conceded the plan's constitutionality is doubtful at best. They say it's just something we have to do, like the airports have been taken over by the government.

I'm not convinced this is what has to be.

Body images still being saved

Concern has also been expressed that the TSA had not prohibited its AIT unit operators from sending or saving the passenger images, or from video-recording them on personal smart-phones.

It's about money

Congress should freeze funding

In addition to Representative Duncan (in the video), a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rush Holt, D-N.J., a PhD. physicist and current chair of the House Select Oversight Panel, is urging Congress to freeze funding for the controversial full-body scanners, saying, we need "to look more closely at the privacy issues and effectiveness of the screenings, and especially the potential long-term health effects of the new technology."

The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is conducting an examination of back-scatter technology, looking to "establish a more rational and selective use of these procedures and technology based on sound science."

The congressman wants to make sure the TSA has reviewed the science and studied thoroughly the new screening procedures before expanding those X-ray scanning procedures into airports throughout the nation. HOORAY!

Gain public confidence

I fail to see how the Congress and the flying public can have confidence that the very legitimate concerns of passengers have been addressed. I like these suggestions as to how to gain my confidence to go through airport security and fly again.

  1. Independent entities validate the effectiveness of the AIT units to both "avoid health risks and detect the full range of explosive threats known or anticipated" to be used by terrorists.
  2. Verify that the AIT units have been changed so that no passenger's body scan is kept, sent or copied some way by TSA or other personnel.
  3. Use of a systematic watch list compiled from intelligence information for a more selective screening of passengers.

Criticism of airport security by crew

The lack of selectivity used by TSA screening subjects the citizen though not charged with a crime to invasive violations of privacy and is an abuse of power. So I'm glad to see gathering opposition to the TSA's policies.

The choice between the currently provided full-body scanner and an enhanced pat-down is hardly a choice at all. I've written a separate article on TSA pad-downs.

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    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Dear anonymous, I tried looking at your link, but there was no way to "read the rest of the story". Does the rest of the store reference how the airport scanner radiation all targets the skin, unlike other sources of radiation? I'd like further studies done on long term effects of radiation targeting the skin, as one who is a VERY high risk for skin cancer. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your link. Wishing I knew how to access the entire article.