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
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.
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.
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
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."
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
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.