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Recent research has shown that T-Wave scanners like the full-body scanners at the airport can cause DNA damage, increasing the risk of cancer.  (Source: MIT Technology Review)

Past research showed that scanners, pre-processing, have fully nude images, despite claims to the contrary. Now newly obtained documents reveal that the scanners can send and store pictures, despite TSA claims that they can't.  (Source: Bloomberg)
More evidence indicates that body scanners aren't such a great idea

Body scanners seemed a promising way to protect against terrorists smuggling forbidden items onto airplanes.  However, over the last year the argument for the devices weakened substantially as it was revealed that the scanners would do little to help and could pose serious privacy issues.

The first issue is the price.  According to reports, current T-Wave (Terahertz-Wave) full-body scanners cost around $166K USD each.  The Transportation Safety Administration has thus far been averaging about 2 scanners per airport.  That could put the cost of President Obama's proposed full scale deployment at around $100M USD to cover all of the approximately 600 airports certified for large commercial aircraft (and as much as $3.2B USD to put a single scanner at all airports, including smaller private ones, in the U.S.).

Would that investment be worth it?  Recent studies by the British government revealed that the current generation of full-body scanners are unable to detect lightweight materials like plastics, chemicals, or liquids.  Bags of substances like the chemicals smuggled in the failed Christmas Day attack would likely slip through, as the scanners are unable to detect them.

The TSA claims that the health risk from the high-frequency scans is very low.  However, in population groups with certain mutations that make them sensitive to radiation (typically due to lacking DNA repair mechanisms), this risk could become very serious, though.  Furthermore, recent studies have revealed that this type of scan can cause mild DNA damage -- raising cancer concerns.

And then there's the mountain of privacy issues.  Past reports have shown that the scanners do have fully naked images, generated by the hardware and momentarily stored as raw images, which then undergo processing to obscure breasts and genitalia.  In theory, these images could be extracted, according to security experts.

Well, at least the scanners can't send or store images, said advocates.  However, that turns out to be a false claim as well.  The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has received 2008 documents from the TSA which not only clearly state that the scanners could have such abilities, but they say that the scanners must have them.

The TSA documents state that all scanners need to be capable of storing and sending user images when in "test mode".  Those documents, obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, catch the TSA in an apparent lie.  It's website claims, "The machines have zero storage capability."

A video on the site adds, "the system has no way to save, transmit or print the image."

A TSA official speaking on condition of anonymity claims that "strong privacy protections [are] in place", adding, "There is no way for someone in the airport environment to put the machine into the test mode."

EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg points out that those claims could suggest any number of hardware or software protections.  About the only way passengers would truly be protected would be if the TSA was removing non-replaceable hardware (such as PCBs) during device deployment.  Mr. Rotenberg suggests that TSA insiders or hackers could overcome more mild obstacles, such as removed storage or software protections.

Mr. Rotenberg concludes, "I don't think the TSA has been forthcoming with the American public about the true capability of these devices.  They've done a bunch of very slick promotions where they show people -- including journalists -- going through the devices. And then they reassure people, based on the images that have been produced, that there's not any privacy concerns.  But if you look at the actual technical specifications and you read the vendor contracts, you come to understand that these machines are capable of doing far more than the TSA has let on."

The TSA official, speaking anonymously, claims the devices cannot be connected to a network.  However, given the fact that past claims were disproven, one can only wonder if that's really the whole truth.

Amid this mountain of concerns, many critics are calling for the President and the TSA to reevaluate the costly program that may endanger both the health and privacy of U.S. travelers.

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RE: Another layer of harassment
By Solandri on 1/12/2010 1:25:24 PM , Rating: 2
Personally, I see cancer and an extreme invasion of privacy as way more than an inconvenience.

Your increased cancer risk from the increased radiation exposure during the flight itself (for trans-continental and trans-oceanic flights) far exceeds the increased cancer risk due to the scans. As a rule of thumb, a transcontinental flight gives you about as much increased radiation exposure as a chest x-ray. A trans-oceanic flight a bit more.

As you've already elected to take the flight, you're implicitly agreed that that level of increased cancer risk is an acceptable trade-off for the convenience of the flight.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By Solandri on 1/12/2010 1:52:51 PM , Rating: 3
Sigh. Since people are downrating me for speaking the truth, here are some external references. We do not live in a radiation-free environment. There's a substantial amount of background radiation that we're constantly exposed to and which our bodies have to be able to withstand to survive. It makes little sense to fret about a minuscule radiation dose at the scanner when you're exposing yourself to a much larger dose simply by taking the flight.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By blowfish on 1/12/2010 3:36:30 PM , Rating: 4
As you've already elected to take the flight, you're implicitly agreed that that level of increased cancer risk is an acceptable trade-off for the convenience of the flight.


Boy, if I ran a convenience store, I'd just love customers like you. Since you agreed to buy this gallon of milk for $5 you obviously implicityly agree to me charging you a further $5 on top of that.

Knucklehead logic, though logic is hardly the right word to describe your mental processes on this one!

RE: Another layer of harassment
By monkeyman1140 on 1/12/2010 3:45:06 PM , Rating: 5
Oh come on, the scanner is just like getting an X-ray, only its like getting one over, and over, and over again.

Remember the olde days when we thought mercury rubdowns, cocaine laced beverages, electric shocks, and radioactive water were good for health? We're just waxing nostalgic.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By lco45 on 1/12/2010 5:55:13 PM , Rating: 2
Well I'm still in favour of the cocaine-laced beverages. Could really come in useful some mornings...


RE: Another layer of harassment
By Samus on 1/12/2010 10:55:44 PM , Rating: 1
I've refuse to walk through a metal detector at an airport. I will likewise refuse a bodyscan. I'm certainly not the purist, healthy type, either. I love McDonalds, don't work out a whole lot and could probably stand to drink and smoke a little less.

The difference is I choose to do those things. Nobody is going to MAKE me walk through a field of radiation. So yes, I'm that asshole in security you see getting the full pat-down taking an extra 60-seconds. I've only been asked to strip once, and it only pants, shirt and socks.

I understand these devices are meant to speed up security scanning, but honestly, I agree with Brandon. I'd rather be searched than NOT be searched. The difference is I want a human to do it, because although there is no science to explain human instincts, we do have them, and I believe these machines will have higher failure than common human error when 'searching' somebody.

They're not as accurate, cost a fortune and give you cancer.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By Strunf on 1/13/2010 8:06:12 AM , Rating: 2
There's no radiation coming out on a metal detector... it's a magnetic field.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By tmouse on 1/13/2010 7:56:50 AM , Rating: 2
This is absolutely nothing like " getting an X-ray, only it's like getting one over, and over, and over again". That's just a foolish statement. Your assumption is energy is energy? A light bulb produces energy is that like getting an x-ray? What about sound, that's energy too, better wrap yourself in lead foil and place yourself in a Faraday cage then. This energy MAY (the article should change all of the can to may) increase the unwinding of DNA a bit more that the numerous amounts that is constantly being done during everyday normal events like epigenomic modification, replication and of course gene expression. Our level of understanding has come a bit further than the century old examples you felt defended your ridiculous statement. Is there a chance, of course, mainly because it is impossible to prove something cannot happen without claiming to possess all of the knowledge in the universe and showing the event is not present within that set. Good luck trying to live with an absolutely zero chance of risk. The risk of any damage compounded by the chance that the damage could cause a biologically relevant event is multiple orders of magnitude less than the risk you are taking to get on the plane in the first place.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By Solandri on 1/12/2010 11:57:45 PM , Rating: 2
Boy, if I ran a convenience store, I'd just love customers like you. Since you agreed to buy this gallon of milk for $5 you obviously implicityly agree to me charging you a further $5 on top of that.

Knucklehead logic, though logic is hardly the right word to describe your mental processes on this one!

Correct, except you're off by a couple orders of magnitude. The radiation exposure from a backscatter x-ray scanner is about 1/1000th that of a typical chest x-ray. So it'd be like agreeing to buy the gallon of milk for $5, and not minding an extra 0.5 cents of sales tax added on.

It's so silly to fret about the radiation from these things when you're going on a plane trip which is going to expose you to about a thousand times more radiation. There are plenty of privacy reasons to object to these things. But the radiation safety issue is a non-starter. If you're that concerned about the radiation, you shouldn't even be flying in the first place. (Heck, you probably shouldn't even expose yourself to sunlight.)

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