Obama administration and the United Kingdom's Cameron-led Coalition
government are embroiled in a growing battle over controversial
scanners that digitally disrobe passengers in the name of
the last week two of the world's largest pilots' unions -- the U.S.
Airline Pilots Association, representing about 5,000 U.S. Airways
pilots, and the Allied
Pilots Association, representing about 11,500 American Airlines
pilots -- announced boycotts of the full body scanners, following a
pair of reports that claim the U.S. Transportation Safety
Administration underestimated the health risks of scans on frequent
fliers.Captain Sam Mayer, who is the APA's communications
committee chairman explained the boycott, in an interview with The
"We are already subjected to larger amounts of radiation by
flying long distances at high altitudes. While the TSA is
telling us it's completely safe, that may be true for the occasional
user, but we haven't seen any data yet talking about the long term
cumulative effects of this over time."Now that the two
largest pilot unions say that the scanners are too dangerous for
them, the question becomes how the public will react to being told
that they have to risk their health when pilots don't.Experts
Say TSA Erred in Health Risk AssessmentThe
boycotts are based primarily on a Congressional report delivered by
Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for
Radiological Research. In his report, Dr. Brenner, a foremost
expert in the field of radiation's effects on the human body,
concluded that the Transportation Security Administration
underestimated backscatter wave scanners' cancer risk nearly
20-fold.Backscatter scanners are one of the two types of
scanners deployed across the U.S. and at various locations abroad.
There were 189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines
deployed at 65 U.S. airports at the end of October. Next year
that number is expected to double, thanks to new installations --
including many new backscatter scanning machines.In an
interview with CNN,
Dr. Brenner concludes, "If you think of the entire population
of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these
scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop
cancer from the radiation from these scanners."The TSA
says that the scans are safe, citing tests from the Food and Drug
Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the
National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins
University Applied Physics Laboratory. An agency spokesperson
comments, "TSA sets strict standards for all of its technology
to include detection capabilities, operational capabilities and
health and safety standards. The two approved technologies that meet
all of those standards are backscatter and millimeter wave."The
agency previously claimed that being scanned exposes the body to
about two minutes worth of cosmic radiation at altitude -- or about
1/1000th of the radiation received from a standard chest
X-ray. Both Dr. Brenner's study and a separate
study by Peter Rez, a professor of physics at Arizona State
University, claim that those estimates were 5 to 20 times too low,
and that the actual risk was probably close to 10 to 20 minutes worth
of high altitude cosmic radiation exposure -- about a 1/50th to
1/100th of a chest X-ray's radiation dosage. Both experts agree
that children and frequent fliers are at the greatest risk, and that
the cancer risk is concentrated on the skin.The TSA has not
outright denied these claims by two of the field's top
experts.Professor Rez says for the average passenger, the
risk of dying from body-scanner induced cancer is about equal to the
risk of dying from a terrorist attack -- 1 in 30 million. He
states, "They're both incredibly unlikely events. These are
still a factor of 10 lower than the probability of dying in any one
year from being struck by lightning in the United States."Despite
Ethical Concerns, the Expensive Scanning Show Goes OnEven
if passengers are content to take their chances with the health risk,
or travel at airports that use the safer millimeter wave technology,
significant other concerns exist. Recent reports revealed that
the scanners may be able to save
images of naked passengers. The U.S. Marshals Service, in
an ongoing court battle, recently admitted to storing
thousands of nude images of passengers. The TSA has
long claimed such images are never stored.Other reports
revealed that TSA employees joked
about their coworkers' genitals raising questions about
whether passengers are subject to similar mockery.And perhaps
most troubling is the subject of children. In the U.S., at many
airports children must be digitally undressed if they want to fly.
While scanners are designed to blur the crotch region and certain
other features, they still show rough outlines of genitalia.
Many people are uncomfortable with TSA employees digitally undressing
their children. In the UK scans of children were
child pornography and banned. In the U.S., scans of
children are mandatory. Nude images of children were likely
among those stored by the Federal Marshals.Further, studies
have shown the scanners
to be very ineffective at detecting many types of
low-density chemicals or plastic weapons which could be used in a
terrorist attack.Those who defy the Obama and Cameron
administrations' scanner edicts will likely be unable to fly, and/or
be subjected to intense searches. And pilots who follow the
proposed boycott may find themselves out of a jobs, as a pilot
a scan in Memphis, Tennessee reportedly did.The
Obama administration hopes to deploy 1,000 more scanners by the end
of 2011. The UK has deployed scanners to two of its busiest
airports -- Heathrow and Manchester and may expand deployment next
year as well. Taxpayers in both nations get to foot the bill
for the expensive "security" devices.
quote: Every time Al Qaeda issue a a 25 cents tape, the world spend a couple more billions on security, to the point of absurdity.
quote: why can't the USA grow a pair and realize that it doesn't need to cater to every group of religious zealouts out there.
quote: People have very poor risk assessment abilities, they are paranoid about extremely low risk things like low-level radiation, yet oblivious to other threats in normal life like automobile safety, and toxins that are thousands of times more dangerous.
quote: Professor Rez says for the average passenger, the risk of dying from body-scanner induced cancer is about equal to the risk of dying from a terrorist attack -- 1 in 30 million.
quote: As soon as profiling starts, then grandma will be the one carrying the bomb.
quote: We don't need to violate the liberty and privacy of hundreds of millions of people every year just to satisfy your hateful paranoia.
quote: The word 'profiling' is a political invention by people who don't want to do security. To us, it doesn't matter if he's black, white, young or old. It's just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I'm doing this?
quote: You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept
quote: These scanners are a total waste of time and money.
quote: I would rather be patted down or get the body scan if it's safe rather than get on a plane that gets blown up by a terrorist