TSA to eliminate X-ray scanners for alternate technology


The TSA is giving up it’s revealing full body X-ray scanners in favor of a different technology. Image: cantankerourbuddha/Flickr/CC BY

The Transportation Security Administration has announced that it is removing its controversial X-ray body scanners in favor of safer, less revealing scanning devices. Others, however, think the TSA is hiding something.

Controversy of TSA X-ray body scanners

The X-ray machines, supplied by Rapiscan Systems, have drawn concern from many over privacy issues, since the images they produce reveal the person’s naked body under their clothing. Those images are examined in real time by TSA officers, looking for weapons or other contraband. But many are concerned about the safety of the machines, as well. Although the dosage is low, X-rays have been linked to some kinds of cancer. A ProPublica probe found that the TSA glossed over that minimal risk, leading many to conclude that the security agency may be hiding even more.

The decision to replace the machines was due to a mandate from Congress. Originally, a deadline of June 1, 2012 was set for the TSA to develop and install software that would make the images the scanners produce less revealing. However, that deadline was extended for a year. But now Rapiscan says it can not meet that 2013 deadline. Therefore, the TSA has decided to pull the plug on Rapiscan.

Millimeter wave scanners

Instead, the TSA is going with an alternative technology that it says produces less revealing images and has fewer health risks. The new scanners shoot out millimeter waves, like those used in cell phones. The images they produce are more like an outline than a photograph, says the TSA, with areas highlighted that security officers need to investigate further with a pat-down. Although some fear the long-term safety issues of millimeter waves, they have not been medically linked to cancer.

The L3 Millimeter Wave scanners are also faster than the X-ray scanners, since each image does not need to be examined by a human agent. They can process more passengers in less time.

However, the TSA is keeping the old Rapiscan machines for “other mission priorities.”

Others are suspicious

Meanwhile, some are implying the TSA may have other motives for the move as well.

Charles Leocha of the advocacy group Consumer Travel Alliance was quoted in an op-ed by Christopher Elliott, posted in The Huffington Post.

“I believe that they are burying potential problems,” Leocha said, believing the TSA dodged a pending National Academy of Science investigation into the X-ray scanners by putting them out of business. “If all of the other studies about safety they claim were done proving the scanners were safe are valid, why not just release those results? Sadly, I have reached the conclusion that TSA has been lying to us and putting Americans’ health in danger.”

Elliott went on to imply in his op-ed that the TSA is simply replacing one under-tested technology with another, again possibly putting innocent travelers at risk in the name of security.


Wall Street Journal
Huffington Post

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