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Despite health and privacy concerns, and reports of inaccuracy, Britain is embracing expensive full body scanners. The nation is implementing a no-scan-no-fly policy at some of its airports. The policy should help citizens feel safer, even if they aren't really, some say.  (Source: CNN.com)
Scanners can't necessarily detect threats, but perhaps they will grant the illusion of security

The United States, in the wake of a failed Christmas terrorist attack on an airline headed to Detroit, Michigan, is looking to step up airport security.  In particular, it is considering adopting on a broader scale 3D scanners which are currently being tested at select airports across the U.S.  Other countries, including Great Britain are also considering adopting the devices.

Two technologies currently are competing in the full body scan arena, each with unique problems.  The first technology, used slightly more heavily in the U.S. is millimeter wave scanning.  There are numerous concerns about the technology including recent studies that showed it could cause DNA damage (which could increase the risk of cancer), inefficiency at detecting contraband placed at the genitals (they are obscured in the image, typically), and reports that the scanners are capable of storing images and transmitting them -- raising privacy concerns.

The second most prevalent technology is backscatter X-Rays.  The chief technology in Britain and also put in use at some American airports, this technology also has numerous concerns.  It is even less effective and detecting contraband as it depends on contrast with the skin -- so items smuggled in clothing lifted off the body surface aren't typically shown.  There are similar DNA damage concerns and privacy issues as well.  And both backscatter X-Rays and millimeter waves have been shown to not always detect low density materials like liquids, plastics, or powders, raising the possibility of explosives or plastic weapons escaping the scans.

Despite the abundant concerns, Britain has issued a sharp ultimatum to travelers -- no scan, no fly.  Transport Secretary Lord Adonis, a member of the ruling Labour Party proposed the rules which first will go into effect at Manchester and Heathrow airports.  He writes, "If a passenger is selected for scanning, and declines, they will not be permitted to fly."

He adds, "The code will require airports to undertake scanning sensitively, having regard to the rights of passengers."

Despite the numerous concerns, the head of customer experience at Manchester airport, Sarah Barrett states, "It will enhance security for everyone, which can only be a good thing, without compromising people's privacy.  The image generated by the body scanner cannot be stored or captured nor can security officers viewing the images recognize people."

The British government and U.S. governments claim the scanners obscure genitalia. However, the accuracy of those claims are being questioned after the Australian government -- also testing the scanners -- admitted that it unblurred the genitalia to increase the accuracy of the devices.  Admitted Australia's Cheryl Johnson, general manager of the Office of Transport Security, "It will show the private parts of people, but what we've decided is that we're not going to blur those out, because it severely limits the detection  capabilities."

Amid numerous concerns -- privacy, health risks, and inefficiency -- governments have to decide whether to try to charge ahead with the unproven and potentially damaging technology -- or to wait until it is sufficiently refined and improved.  Most world governments seem to be opting for the latter approach, throwing caution to the wind.  While the new scanners may not necessarily increase security significantly, they may at least offer people the illusion of safety at the airport, albeit at the cost of privacy and health risks.  And perhaps that's worth the high taxpayer expenses as Britain rolls out its new policy and the U.S. considers similar mandates.





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