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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 1:44:06 PM , Rating: 2
Your DNA gets damaged all the time. The earth is constantly bombarded by cosmic radiation which can damage it. Stepping into sunlight increases the rate at which it's damaged. Being at high altitude for the few hours of the flight increases the rate at which it's damaged.

Your body has built-in systems to repair or withstand most of that damage. People who don't, as mentioned in the article, are destined to die early anyway. I don't mind putting a number on the increased risk so people can make a fair assessment of the dangers. But bandying the fact about as if there were no other causes of DNA damage is dishonest at best, blatant manipulation of public perception at worst. The radiation exposure from the scan is much less than a chest x-ray, which pretty much the entire medical community has concluded is an acceptable level of risk.

As you've surmised, the scanners work because the t-waves don't penetrate the body much. As the image is formed from waves which are scattered back (pretty much like visual wavelengths, except these waves are big enough not to see clothing), they represent little more risk than being bathed in sunlight. IMHO the privacy issue is far more important.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By MrBlastman on 1/12/2010 2:24:17 PM , Rating: 2
Well sure, lots of things damage our DNA. In our world of tests and scans, the medical community is relying on them more and more every day. The average levels of common radiation exposure to the individual is increasing every year. Granted, despite this fact cancer rates _have_ grown since 1975 but in recent years, are in remission (well, not adjusted for the discrepancy between males and females. It is in fact the males that are bringing this figure down, while females have leveled off at an elevated level).


Due to this simple revelation, we can see a 12% increase in prevalence from 1975 to 2006. 12% is not a large number but it is an increase.

Look, something is going to get you eventually, be it heart disease, cancer, a bus, darwin, etc. Cancer is probably the last on anyone's list as a way to go. From all the people I have seen pass on, Cancer is the most insidious of ways to go.

I'm not trying to harp the alarms but simply trying to say that if these screenings add further to the pool of potential genetic mutigens, why not instead try and find a less-harmful way to screen the individuals who pass through these detectors. While I might not fly multiple times a day, there are others who _do_ fly frequently, some on a daily basis, who, with time would sustain a very elevated level of exposure to these processes.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By omnicronx on 1/12/2010 2:46:58 PM , Rating: 2
12% is not a large number but it is an increase.
That's just incidents though in general, cancer related deaths have actually gone down since 1975. (not going to link that, its on the page you linked.)

Isn't it also feasible that advancements in technology has increased both of these numbers? In 1975 there were many cancers we didn't even know about.. (making it kind of hard to diagnose as such)

RE: Another layer of harassment
By MrBlastman on 1/12/2010 2:59:29 PM , Rating: 2
I chose incidents for a reason. While deaths have gone down (yes, I saw that), the sheer suggestion that an individual would have to go through cancer treatment is horrifying enough. Have you yourself or someone you know ever gone through treatment for cancer?

It isn't that fun at all. People might be able to survive cancer better than ever these days but why even accelerate their chances of having to fight it in the first place?

True, we might be able to better diagnose cancer now than we could before (in the 60's and 70's it was a very invasive procedure known as biopsy and "exploratory surgery"), I think these figures do hold some weight coming from the National Cancer Institute.

RE: Another layer of harassment
By tmouse on 1/13/2010 8:26:51 AM , Rating: 2
I've spent the vast majority of my career working in cancer research and I can tell you the vast majority of the increase in cancer rates can and is accounted for by the significant increase in early detection. This also is the leading factor in the increase in survival. Our treatments have not really advanced that much. Again I want to point out that the best evidence on the "damage" is not in fact damage at all, rather it can brake some of the weak hydrogen bonds that lead to an change in the DNA conformation into a form that could be damaged. We constantly have our DNA moving in and out of these conformations and its seems the amounts are probably insignificant compared to the background amounts that naturally occur. This is not ionizing radiation, it doesn't break phosphodiester bonds or cause free radicals. For this to cause a biologically relevant event you need the small regions this temporarily changes to be effected (at that exact time) by a base altering event (mutation, even then there is a 50% chance of normal repair using the opposite strand) or a double break in the phosphodiester backbone leading to a deletion or a duplication. Now this also has to happen in an area of the DNA that is either coding or regulatory and that region needs to be functional in that particular cell. Now, add in escaping imunosurveillance and avoiding the triggering of an apoptotic cascade and I hope you get the idea. There are probably thousands of cells in your body every day that could be cancerous and never survive.

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