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  (Source: Cynthia Boll/AP)

Pricey new "millimeter-wave" full body scanners may seem promising, but in reality they do little to detect liquids, plastics, or chemical explosives, say UK government officials.  (Source: IOS Graphics)
Turns out we might really not be any safer with new semi-nude scans

On Christmas Day Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, attempted an audacious terrorist attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  Fortunately, the Nigerian native's scheme failed due to faulty explosives and he was taken into custody after being restrained by passengers.  However, in the wake of the attacks, U.S. President Barack Obama is considering rolling out current test-phase 3D scanners on a national basis.

Privacy advocates are outraged as the scanners show basically a nude image of the passenger -- with genitals and breasts blurred by software (though the raw image is fully nude).  However, there may be a far greater problem with the scanners. According to British government officials -- they don't work.

The British Department for Transport (DfT) and the Home Office tested the new 3D scanners thoroughly and found that while they were relatively accurate in catching high-density materials that pat-downs missed (such as knives, box-cutters, or other problem items), they failed to detect most low-density items, including bags of liquid.

The Christmas Day bomber used a 3 oz. package of the chemical powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), disguised in his crotch.  Hard to detect in a pat down, British politicians familiar with the country's internal research say that "millimeter-wave" scanners would also likely fail to spot the bag of low-density chemical explosives.

According to Ben Wallace, the UK Conservative MP, tests showed that the new scanners failed to detect a variety of low-density materials, including, plastic, chemicals and liquids.  The waves pass through these materials, hitting the body and then bouncing back, revealing only the underlying skin.

Like the U.S., the UK is now considering adopting the scanners on a broad basis.  However, emerging evidence from government studies on the scanners indicates that the rollout may be nothing more than a pricey game of "security theater" designed to make people feel safe, while doing little in reality.  This is significant, considering the investment may amount to hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, an expense that will surely be passed on to taxpayers.

Mr. Wallace comments, "[UK Prime Minister] Gordon Brown is grasping at headlines if he thinks buying a couple of scanners will make us safer. It is too little, too late. Under his leadership, he starved the defence research budget that could have funded a comprehensive solution while at the same time he has weakened our border security.  Scanners cannot provide a comprehensive solution on their own. We must now start to ask if national security demands the use of profiling."

Mr. Wallace is among the politicians in the U.S., UK, and abroad that's suggesting some sort of profiling system as an alternative to more effectively increase security.  Such a system might involve additional searches of foreign nationals, particularly from volatile regions like the Middle East and Africa, while potentially lightening the searches on certain groups, like the elderly.

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By TheEinstein on 1/4/2010 2:15:46 PM , Rating: 2

Devices are an interesting topic when relating to an airport. We have dogs, we have metal detectors, we have 'sniffer/blower' devices, and we have body scanners of different sorts.

Each device has it's handicaps, and issues. For instance if you wish to throw dogs into a tizzy you can get a spray can filled with residues of common explosives, and spray baggage going in clandestinely, then leave the area. This also will make false positives on sniffer devices.

Dogs are also unique that they usually are effective for a moderate range of specific types of odors. They can however detect even the smallest traces of those odors, and commonly track it from a pretty decent distance if it is the primary odor they are attracted to.

Metal detectors detect just that, metals or anything which will interrupt a magnetic field in a strong manner. This means some of the new plastic magnets will set these off as well.

Sniffer/Blower devices rely upon a device to blow chemicals on your body, on your clothes, in your hair, etc. into a sniffing device which can detect a very large range of explosives, chemical agents, etc. However these devices currently, as recently explained in here, suffer a lot of breakdowns, and also give plenty of false positives. Additionally they are inept of handling issues where the person has a sealed container, not sealed by him, that is clean of materials carried inside it... but I digress and will post this in the next comment box.

A full body scan, of which there are three types last I heard available, utilize a variety of methods to examine a human looking for contraband. Now due to enemy action, lawyers seeking cash, people who are scared the world is going to laugh at their winky, and so forth, we have neutered this system to nearly making it inoperable.

The best arrangement of a full body scan would be to have a closed off, no outside influence possible of a room with a provision of NO ELECTRONICS on pain of 20 years in jail inside the room. The operator inside does not know who is in the scanner, and there is separate rooms for female and male with operators of the proper sex only in each room. The scan is done, the image is in the booth only, and in a temp ram buffer only, where the operator can green, yellow, or red light the person. Yellow is for pat down, and red for 'danger' as in 'has a gun, knife, or something equally dangerous'. Green means go enjoy your flight.

However the situation now has genitalia blurred out, and the chest. As evidenced by the underwear bomber this creates a significant hole in security. A computer may not notice the gonads of a person are way to big, where a human might decide that is not possible.

Devices sadly are easy to counter, as will be demonstrated next.

"This is about the Internet.  Everything on the Internet is encrypted. This is not a BlackBerry-only issue. If they can't deal with the Internet, they should shut it off." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis

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