Opt Out of 'Backscatter X-ray' Whole Body Scanners

Comments

1
I hope I get into one of the ones which shows details of the body.......erection here I come :)
2
Is there some kind of contest among Republican owned companies to see who cause the most cancer among the American public?
3
@1: The millimeter wave whole body scanners (the ones without the safety concerns) are the ones that produce a '3D' image of your junk. You have my blessing to have your genitals scanned by those.
4
I wonder how easy it is to tell if it's an mm or an x-ray scanner they're sending you to? I'm pretty sure here at Denver airport it's an mm scanner, which I can't get very worried about.

This point about the lower-energy x-rays being absorbed in a much smaller volume of tissue, I didn't know about that. That's really interesting, and somewhat worrisome.

It occurs to me that their point (F), about fetuses, maybe is a less serious concern, being the flip side of the low-energy x-ray coin. For the same reason the first few mm of tissue is getting a much higher dose, the fetus is probably getting a negligible dose.
5
Thanks, Jonathan, I was trying to separate the paranoid hyperbole from the actual science on this issue before I fly over the holidays. You saved me reading some boring crap, and possibly developing cancer had I decided it was all hysteria.

I guess I wouldn't entirely hate being felt up in front of a bunch of strangers, anyway. Gotta do everything a few times (once isn't enough to make a good subjective judgment, I feel).
6
#2: Amazingly, the only media-quoted government elected representatives raising concerns and objections about these scanners and pat downs are Republicans: Kay Bailey Hutchinson, John J. Duncan, Jr., John Mica for example. Even Senator John McCain has questioned Janet Napolitano about the health dangers, and asked if the images collected by the scanning machines would be transmitted and stored. One might suspect that they'd rather the TSA be turfed out in favor of private companies, considering that ten Republican Senators didn't seem to mind that an employee of a privately owned defense contractor was raped by her coworkers. If the heightened security regulations scare people from flying, they don't get used so much, and the TSA have fewer passengers to check, so the money invested in these machines and TSA employees can be described by Republicans as government waste.
I'm not saying that Republicans are against inside, sweetheart deals (**koff**Halliburton), but you can't blame them for paying attention to public outcry.
7
I don't know why SeaTac Airport would use backscatter instead of millimeter wave machines, given how prevalent breast cancer is in Seattle. Do airport officials not want breast cancer survivors to fly, or are local TSA friskers hoping to cop some feelies from the radiation-averse female passengers?
8
How long have these been at Sea-Tac? I traveled just a month ago and didn't see them.
9
The travelers are one thing, what about the stewardesses/stewards/pilots/bartenders/clerks/etc that presumably have to be screened every time they go to work?
10
Regardless of the safety of all this, the real issue is that all of this is fucking bullshit. This security theater does not make us safer, but is sure as fuck makes traveling fucking annoying. I traveled in Europe this Summer and I didn't have to take off my shoes or put any gels or liquids in any kind of plastic bag. It's all fucking bullshit.
11
I'm flying out of SeaTac on opt-out day. I plan to refuse the backscatter, and will bring with me either this new letter to Obama or the one written in April by UCSF scientists. I also plan to arrive at the airport about 4 hours before my 2 hr flight, and am prepared not to complain or whine at the wait, since I will be one of the causes of the monster delays the day before Thanksgiving. I do expect people to get angry with me for holding up the line, but I feel like opting out is almost an act of civil disobedience and if enough people do it our message will have an impact.
12
Thanks, Jonathan, I'd actually been waiting for you to weigh in on this, since I trust your analysis of this kind of shit.

I've just been really sick of people giving back-of-the-envelope calculations as justifications why they're clearly perfectly safe. Sorry, assholes, I believe in science, not guesstimation.

I don't have any plans to fly anywhere anytime soon, but if the gropings are still going on when I next do, I plan to wear a kilt for it. True-Scotsman style.
13
Bomb sniffing dogs apparently aren't expensive enough for The Chertoff Group's sweetheart contracts to the TSA.

Wouldn't mind my crotch being sniffed by a dog or my leg occasionally humped by the same.
14
@9, I'm not 100% certain, but I think if you are a flight crew with proper clearance and ID, you probably bypass the passenger screening process entirely.
15
I might quibble that it's hard to ever "definitively demonstrate" the safety of these devices. There can be direct evidence of harm or potential harm, or no such evidence, but lack of evidence isn't definitive. Countless things have been found to be very harmful when new tests or longer-term studies became available, after years of showing no evidence of harm.

I'm not an alarmist about the health effects of these things—my objections are more like @10's—but I'm also not particularly convinced that mm wave is risk-free.
16
14, if so, that takes care of the stews and pilots, but what about the concourse employees (bartenders, clerks, etc) and back-of-house people (baggage handlers, refuelers, those people who direct the plane in, etc)?
17
Note that while TSA insist that the naked body scanners cannot save images, in a letter from EPIC to TSA's FOIA liason, Courtney Barclay and John Verdi wrote, "Rapiscan's Secure 1000 scanner is certified by DHS for homeland security. This technology allows operators to save images from the scanner on the system's hard disk or on an external disk `for training and legal documentation.' The stored images can be recalled and viewed on the system monitory or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics." The applicable footnote is, "Backscatter, Rapiscan Secure 1000, FAQ, http://rapiscansystems.com/sec1000faqs.h…".

Curiously, that FAQ page still lists "Q: Can the Secure 1000 images be saved?", but later in the page, that question no longer exists. Fortunately, the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine has a cache of it, which shows:

Q: Can the Secure 1000 images be saved?

A: Saving images can be disabled completely. If saving images is enabled then the images acquired with the system can be saved on the system's hard disk or transferred to floppy disk for training and legal documentation. The stored images can be recalled and viewed on the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics.


See also: EPIC's Whole Body Imaging Technology and Body Scanners page.
18
Anthony,

I should be a bit more specific here. I think people should opt out of these scanners until these credible and reasonable questions of their safety are clearly addressed by empiric studies attempting to confirm (or refute them). If a well-designed study, powered sufficiently to detect harm, cannot find harm, then I'd consider these concerns definitively demonstrated to be false.

Part of this, is a continued poor understanding of what represents a 'safe' radiation dose. The theory and data supporting the safety of these devices ignores both the temporal and spatial distribution of the radiation. It would be like saying sitting ten feet from a candle for days has the same potential for harm to the retina as a high-energy laser burst focused on the eye for a millisecond--provided the integrated total energy distributed over the body is the same between the two exposures. That is an unproven assertion.

In fact, in the case of ionizing radiation, there is good data arguing for the opposite. For equal doses of radiation:
1. Radiation slowly given over time seems safer than that concentrated into short bursts. A potential reason: our cells have DNA repair mechanisms. If the damage comes in over time, they can keep up. If a huge amount of damage occurs in a short period, it becomes overwhelming.

2. Radiation from sources that become internalized--say radioactive phosphate, carbon, hydrogen or iodine--are far more destructive dose-for-dose than radiation distributed evenly over the body from outside.

I read carefully the arguments proposed by the supporters of these scanners--including the Columbia group of profs. I believe it is their claims lacking evidence at this time.

While there are some proposed risks of MM scanners, the evidence and theory behind this risk seems far less compelling at this time.

And, finally, I agree that the biggest point remains none of these sorts of scans have been demonstrated to actually make us safer. Tellingly, Israel doesn't bother with this crap.
19
Actually, even pilots are subjected to the new screening. One pilot has already refused to fly over it, because he can't get to the plane without being stripped or groped. Two pilot's unions are strongly recommending that pilots do not go through the machines, since it would be daily dosages of radiation for them, which is a much higher risk than it is for most people, and telling them to request a private room for their pat down, and if they feel too uneasy after being patted down to fly to call in sick that day. - Of course doing this to pilots is remarkably stupid since they already have access to the plane's controls and don't need to hijack it. Plus if they wanted a weapon to take out their co-pilot, they have access to an axe, for safety reasons, within their cabin. Security from pilots is primarily gained by vetting them. They can easily crash planes if they want to.

There is also a risk to TSA agents, because it's not clear what sort of shielding these machines have, and they are standing next to machines that deal with x-rays all day long. And while I don't like the job they are doing, getting another job in this economy isn't an easy thing, and I don't think they deserve cancer for it.

But anyone who works in a secured area of an airport is at much higher risk than a traveler is. What the risk is is very hard to say, because this is new and not well studied.
20
@14, actually pilots and flight attendants are all required to be screened almost as rigorously as anyone else... the exception is they get to keep their shoes on. (???) many crew members are beginning to revolt along with their passengers:
http://articles.cnn.com/2010-11-11/trave…
21
This article published a few years ago in the Atlantic describes very well what a complete sham our airport "security" is. These bullshit radiation experiments conducted on the population at large is just another assault on our dignity and completely fucking ineffective at combating terrorism, especially so long as we have poorly paid, brain dead TSA employees who can't tell their ass from a Hezbollah flag. I mean, seriously, we've all seen these people. Not exactly the brightest bulbs, and now they're endowed with power over our dignity.

22
How I love you, Dear Science!
23
You can discuss the details of the different technologies ad nauseum, but I'm still not stepping into any of them, even if it means not flying.
I certainly don't mind having a man feel me up, he won't find anything that isn't permanently attached!
24
The laser beam to the eye comparison needs to be made to everyone who keeps insisting that these machines only produce as much radiation as two minutes of fly time. Not verbally, but actually shine your laser pointer in their eyes, and then act innocent when they protest. "Don't you know how much light gets in your eye in a single day? Way more than a few seconds of laser produces."

I'm not convinced these things are really that dangerous. But this dismissive bullshit based on an isolated fragment of evidence is definitely dangerous.
25
What "expert" are they talking to? As someone who worked with radiation, half the stuff mentioned is completely retarded. X-rays aren't the big concern. It's the invasion of privacy. Do airport security like Israel does.
26
Very good info, thanks Jonathan.

I read that the TSA says the chance of harm to scannees is 1/30M. Same as being struck by lightning, right?

But 800M fly annually in the US. If I'm doing my math right, is that not a 3.75% at risk annually in the US? (That type of math gets me confused.)

Also, aren't the MM scanners closely related to microwaves?
27
Ah, I forgot, and @25 is right. Whether it's scanning or groping, it's still teaching and desensitizing people to accept having their privacy stolen or invaded simply to put on farcical Security Theater.
28
If a person decides to wear nothing but tight underwear through the security line the pat down would be minimal and the line would go faster.

And it would make a great video!
29
@28: The Taiwanese CGI news info animation reenactors already did it for you.

I'm waiting for the body cavity search CGIs, myself. You know they're on the way.
30
Thanks Jonathan. I have two chronic immunological conditions. I will definitely opt out of that contraption!
31
You'd better stop using that wireless device, then. It will fry your brain (I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt).
=====================
You have several choices:
1) Drive (DON'T use your phone while doing it!)
2) Amtrak, UPS or FedEx (pack carefully)
3) Greyhound or other large dog (bring Dr. Ross)
4) Crawl, pushing a peanut with your nose (reserved for GOP/TP'ers only, wearing condoms)
5) Receive an impersonal frisk or x-ray that does more to protect other passengers from YOU than it does to protect you (a terrorist?) from them
6) Be awakened by horrible screams during a cat-nap and look out your window to see an office building a few hundred feet away from you, approaching at 500mph

There are no other options.

1) Get vaporized in a conflagration of thousands of gallons of charcoal lighter (that's what jet fuel is, basically: kerosene) with twisted, melting aluminum and burning, stinking, bloodshot flesh.
... or ...
2) Act like a sensible, responsible adult and let the guy/gal TSA official either x-ray or frisk you.
2a) You're not nearly as cool or irresistible as you think you are.

"How can you be so obtuse? Is it deliberate?"
=====================
There may be something else in the universe that is as much fun as baiting the gullible, but I'm sure I don't know what it is.
32
I wouldn't pay too much attention to anyone who lights his charcoal with kerosene (that's what jet fuel is).
33
The big question I have-- that no seems to be answering credibly is: are these machines more effective at screening for explosive devices than the ones we have now?
They don't detect plastics, they can't see inside the body cavity where liquids are commonly stored. What do they do that makes them better?
34
I use a chimney starter to light my charcoal. Also from now on, I'm going commando whenever I fly, because I am definitely cooler and more irresistable than you can imagine.
35
@33 they cost more and they can upload higher quality nude pics to the Internet, as people in Florida now know.

Tens of thousands of them.
36
@31 - I have a problem with a county increasingly treating its citizens as criminals in the name of "safety".
37
Very nice article, Jonathan. As a radiographer, you bring up what I, and every radiographer I work with/know, think is the most important point about these backscatter machines. Nobody has correct information about the doses these machines produce and the government doesn't seem to care. Skin dose is very different than total body dose. Thus total body dose is not entirely relevant pertaining to these machines. They should be required by law to post the trefoil on and near these machines as no amount of ionizing radiation, no matter how small the dose, is considered safe.
38
@36 counties are like that.

Heck, even countries are like that.

To the Billionaires of the world, we are only serfs who exist to do their bidding and amuse them.
39
Screening pilots has got to be the stupidest thing ever. They don't need to take anything with them onto the plane in order to crash it - they have control of the freakin' plane already! *headdesk* I'd be a lot more concerned about the illegal immigrants with fake IDs who are loading cargo into the planes.

There is no machine that will ever do a better job of screening than an El Al security agent. There is no replacement for standing eyeball to eyeball with someone for a few minutes, and waiting to see which one blinks first.

*hint* Israelis NEVER blink.
40
Elsewhere, someone posting as "janetdoe" wrote:

[I]t is statistically likely that TSA will cause many deaths from radiation exposure. (something on the order of 1 in 20 million according to Peter Rez). There have been 7 billion passenger enplanements over the last decade.

7 billion divided by 20 million = 350 deaths from cancers due to increased radiation exposure from x-ray backscatter scanning. That doesn't even include all the people who would suffer through cancer but not die, which would easily double the figure.

If the TSA had x-ray backscatter screening and had stopped the 4 flights on 9/11 and the shoe bomber and the Christmas bomber, they would have saved 674 passengers lives. (This number is horribly overstated, of course, because the x-ray scanners wouldn't have stopped 9/11.) The number of people who died at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon is irrelevant, because reinforced cockpit doors, armed pilots, and changed attitudes (from citizens, airlines and the military) have eliminated the risk of a 'Weapons of Mass Destruction'-type event.

So which is better: 350 people die slow painful agonizing deaths from cancer or 674 people die suddenly and quickly in a plane crash?

The answer is that it doesn't matter. Both risks are totally negligible.

Quoting from ANSI N43-17: To put this in perspective, this same risk of death [from radiation] results from about one minute of riding in an automobile. So the risk of dying from scanner radiation is equivalent to to riding in your car for one minute, and the risk of dying from a terrorist airplane bomb is double that: it's the same risk as you driving two minutes in your car.

In your 20 minute ride to the airport, you were TEN TIMES as likely to die from a car accident than you were from a terrorist trying to bomb your plane. If we promised you that getting a naked scan or grope by a government agent would have absolutely prevented you from dying in the car on the way to the airport, would you have submitted? Probably not, because you aren't terrified of dying in a car crash every time you get behind the wheel. And yet your risk of dying was TEN TIMES the level of risk presented by a terrorist.

The risk of a terrorist bombing your airplane for all intents and purposes, about the same risk that I will catch or die from a cancer because the government wants to see me naked.

So why the heck should I have to risk my health and forfeit my rights to privacy so that you can pretend to yourself that you are protecting yourself from some huge scary risk?

41
Day by day, the terrorists continue to win.
42
@Eric from Boulder:

yes, the MM machines will be cylindrical and tan-grey colored. The Backscatter X-Ray machines will be obvious because they contain two walls that you must step in between.

Hope this helps :)
43
A couple of weeks after going through a backscatter scanner, I got small itchy water blisters on my wrists and midriff. These got larger and became a ring of bumps. I was diagnosed with granuloma annulare.