Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Update on Backscatter X-rays

A brief that ran in American newspapers this week noted that Phoenix’s airport (aka International Sky Harbor) now is delaying the installation of controversial backscatter x-rays scanners, similar to the security technology which is operating at Erez checkpoint. Public relations were unlikely to improve over the busy winter holiday season with extra body checks inflicted on harried travelers by undertrained personnel, the airport officials concluded. They prefer to wait a few more months before they introduce these new devices.

The problem is that these scanners reveal more than necessary, giving operators an x-ray peek at what lies underneath passengers' clothing and an opportunity to indulge in crude commentary. But law enforcement experts warned that genitalia must be scanned, since smugglers often prefer to use body cavities or to hide contraband, such as plastic explosive, taped beneath dangly bits. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union has slammed these high-tech machines for subjecting airline passengers to “a virtual strip search” much like the ones endured at Israeli checkpoints.

Now the US manufacturers promise that their high resolution graphic images can be rendered to blur intimate zones or to highlight objects inside a line drawing, rather than show them on an unclothed image erected on the screen in real time. No one could confirm what happens to the images perused by adolescent Israeli border guards--and whether individual images get passed around or traded by bored security personnel.

The manufacturers claim that a typical radiation dose from a single security scan is less than 10 microRem (0.1 microSieverts). This amount will not inflict harm on vulnerable people such as pregnant or potentially pregnant women, children, infants, the elderly, or patients undergoing radiation treatment, it is claimed.

The 10 microRem blast is equivalent to:

* The radiation passengers typically get from cosmic rays while flying for two minutes at 30,000 feet.
* One percent (1%) of the ionising radiation dose received by the average person in a typical day. A cat scan would be 100,000 times as potent as a backscatter scan.

There are no statistics available for cumulative exposure.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, the Indian government has nixed the use of these intrusive scans