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In the UK nude scans of children are banned under child pornography laws. In the U.S. nude scans of children are mandatory at many airports.  (Source: Corbis)

Pilot unions have boycotted the devices after discovering that the radiation exposure might be 20 times higher than the U.S. government claimed.  (Source: AP)

Employees of the U.S. federal government revealed in a recent lawsuit that they stored thousands of nude images of passengers.  (Source: David McNew/Getty Images North America)
Risk of dying in terrorist attack equal to risk of dying from body scanner, expert asserts

The Obama administration and the United Kingdom's Cameron-led Coalition government are embroiled in a growing battle over controversial scanners that digitally disrobe passengers in the name of security.

Pilots Boycott Scanners

Over the last week two of the world's largest pilots' unions -- the U.S. Airline Pilots Association, representing about 5,000 U.S. Airways pilots, and the Allied Pilots Association, representing about 11,500 American Airlines pilots -- announced boycotts of the full body scanners, following a pair of reports that claim the U.S. Transportation Safety Administration underestimated the health risks of scans on frequent fliers.

Captain Sam Mayer, who is the APA's communications committee chairman explained the boycott, in an interview with 
The Registercommenting, "We are already subjected to larger amounts of radiation by flying long distances at high altitudes.  While the TSA is telling us it's completely safe, that may be true for the occasional user, but we haven't seen any data yet talking about the long term cumulative effects of this over time."

Now that the two largest pilot unions say that the scanners are too dangerous for them, the question becomes how the public will react to being told that they have to risk their health when pilots don't.

Experts Say TSA Erred in Health Risk Assessment

The boycotts are based primarily on a Congressional report delivered by Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research.  In his report, Dr. Brenner, a foremost expert in the field of radiation's effects on the human body, concluded that the Transportation Security Administration underestimated backscatter wave scanners' cancer risk nearly 20-fold.

Backscatter scanners are one of the two types of scanners deployed across the U.S. and at various locations abroad.  There were 189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines deployed at 65 U.S. airports at the end of October.  Next year that number is expected to double, thanks to new installations -- including many new backscatter scanning machines.

In an interview with 
CNN, Dr. Brenner concludes, "If you think of the entire population of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners."

The TSA says that the scans are safe, citing tests from the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.  An agency spokesperson comments, "TSA sets strict standards for all of its technology to include detection capabilities, operational capabilities and health and safety standards. The two approved technologies that meet all of those standards are backscatter and millimeter wave."

The agency previously claimed that being scanned exposes the body to about two minutes worth of cosmic radiation at altitude -- or about 1/1000th of the radiation received from a standard chest X-ray.  

Both Dr. Brenner's study and a separate study by Peter Rez, a professor of physics at Arizona State University, claim that those estimates were 5 to 20 times too low, and that the actual risk was probably close to 10 to 20 minutes worth of high altitude cosmic radiation exposure -- about a 1/50th to 1/100th of a chest X-ray's radiation dosage.  Both experts agree that children and frequent fliers are at the greatest risk, and that the cancer risk is concentrated on the skin.

The TSA has not outright denied these claims by two of the field's top experts.

Professor Rez says for the average passenger, the risk of dying from body-scanner induced cancer is about equal to the risk of dying from a terrorist attack -- 1 in 30 million.  He states, "They're both incredibly unlikely events. These are still a factor of 10 lower than the probability of dying in any one year from being struck by lightning in the United States."

Despite Ethical Concerns, the Expensive Scanning Show Goes On

Even if passengers are content to take their chances with the health risk, or travel at airports that use the safer millimeter wave technology, significant other concerns exist.  Recent reports revealed that the scanners may be able to save images of naked passengers.  The U.S. Marshals Service, in an ongoing court battle, recently admitted to storing thousands of nude images of passengers.  The TSA has long claimed such images are never stored.

Other reports revealed that TSA employees joked about their coworkers' genitals raising questions about whether passengers are subject to similar mockery.

And perhaps most troubling is the subject of children.  In the U.S., at many airports children must be digitally undressed if they want to fly.  While scanners are designed to blur the crotch region and certain other features, they still show rough outlines of genitalia.  Many people are uncomfortable with TSA employees digitally undressing their children.  

In the UK scans of children were likened to child pornography and banned.  In the U.S., scans of children are mandatory.  Nude images of children were likely among those stored by the Federal Marshals.

Further, studies have shown the scanners to be very ineffective at detecting many types of low-density chemicals or plastic weapons which could be used in a terrorist attack.

Those who defy the Obama and Cameron administrations' scanner edicts will likely be unable to fly, and/or be subjected to intense searches.  And pilots who follow the proposed boycott may find themselves out of a jobs, as a pilot who refused a scan in Memphis, Tennessee reportedly did.

The Obama administration hopes to deploy 1,000 more scanners by the end of 2011.  The UK has deployed scanners to two of its busiest airports -- Heathrow and Manchester and may expand deployment next year as well.  Taxpayers in both nations get to foot the bill for the expensive "security" devices.

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Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By spread on 11/15/2010 7:50:45 AM , Rating: -1
Do I want to die by terrorism, or by skin cancer.

Choices, choices.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By jimbo2779 on 11/15/2010 7:56:58 AM , Rating: 5
thing is that these will not stop any terrorists just give you cancer and leave the nice friendly TSA agents with a pic of you in the buff.

Imagine taking your kids through something that takes naked pics of them and then stores said pic on the machine to be copied to SD card at a later date or transferred over the network capabilities that they DO have.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By MrTeal on 11/15/2010 8:53:38 AM , Rating: 5
I wonder if a female TSA agent could complain about sexual harassment if you shake your hips while you get scanned on go "Wooo Wooo".

By CowKing on 11/15/2010 12:30:41 PM , Rating: 1
for the love of god +6 PLEASE. Thanks for the idea by the way

By Souka on 11/15/2010 2:02:44 PM , Rating: 5
I always give myself a bit of a rub before going through the scanner... bigger is better right? :)

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Amiga500 on 11/15/2010 8:17:30 AM , Rating: 5
Already answered:

Professor Rez says for the average passenger, the risk of dying from body-scanner induced cancer is about equal to the risk of dying from a terrorist attack -- 1 in 30 million.

Therefore, you are doubling your risk of dying (to ~2 in 30 million) by going through the scanner.

If any reader thinks that you going through the scanner will prevent any terrorist attack; I recommend you go through the scanner continuously about 30 million times.

These scanners are a total waste of time and money.

By myhipsi on 11/15/2010 9:43:25 AM , Rating: 2
Of course it doesn't prevent terrorist attacks. That wasn't the purpose of it anyway. As usual, the government is filling the pockets of crooks again. Michael Chertoff is a former homeland security secretary and the founder of the Chertoff Group, a security consulting firm whose clients include manufacturers of full-body scanners. Coincidence, I don't think so.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By FITCamaro on 11/15/2010 10:01:00 AM , Rating: 2
They're just too afraid of doing what's actually necessary because it isn't politically correct.

Profiling those most likely to be terrorists. Grandma most likely isn't carrying a bomb.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Spivonious on 11/15/2010 10:24:25 AM , Rating: 3
As soon as profiling starts, then grandma will be the one carrying the bomb.

I wonder how many potential threats have been caught at the scanners/metal detectors. You only ever hear about the ones who make it past them.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/15/2010 3:45:16 PM , Rating: 2
As soon as profiling starts, then grandma will be the one carrying the bomb.

Can you please explain to me how that's going to happen?

Al Queda doesn't use mind control. Granny isn't going to blow herself and a plane full of people up because they tell her too. Hello?

And okay, let's go with the premise that that could happen. How about we cross that bridge when we get to it? Meanwhile the 99% of the rest of us can go about our business and not be treated like suspects.

When beliefs become illogical and inflexible, they become dogma. Your belief that anyone "could" be a terrorist, so we have to suspect everyone, is based on nothing but your own stupidity, not our "prejudices".

100% of Islamic terrorists are Muslim and match a profile. How in the world can you people spout your opinions in face of such an overwhelming fact? Sorry but I don't think we'll be having to worry about "granny" becoming a threat. EVER.

By Spivonious on 11/16/2010 2:50:47 PM , Rating: 2
Please expain to me how you can tell one's religion from looking at them.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By FaaR on 11/15/2010 12:41:49 PM , Rating: 1
Why don't you take your profiling bullschtick and cram it up your ass, okay?

If there's 1 in 30 million chance of dying in any form of terrorist attack, the chance of dying to a terrorist carrying a bomb aboard an aircraft is going to be far far less. If a terrorist wants to kill you (already almost zero chance of happening), it's going to be on the ground, and most likely with a regular firearm and not a bomb as guns are far easier to obtain and handle compared to explosives.

I say current security measures are already adequate to guarantee a more than reasonable level of safety on aircraft. We don't need to violate the liberty and privacy of hundreds of millions of people every year just to satisfy your hateful paranoia.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Reclaimer77 on 11/15/2010 3:49:27 PM , Rating: 4
We don't need to violate the liberty and privacy of hundreds of millions of people every year just to satisfy your hateful paranoia.

What are you talking about? We ARE doing that NOW. We ARE violating the liberty and privacy of hundreds of millions of people.

By TheBaker on 11/15/2010 8:40:11 PM , Rating: 2
You should probably follow the little dotted lines that attach the comments before you get indignant. This guy was responding to the same person you responded to. He's on your side and you just attacked him.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Dorkyman on 11/15/2010 1:36:18 PM , Rating: 4
I heartily agree, profiling is the answer. The only positive aspect of the current scanner situation is that it will drive even the PC crowd to agree that some form of profiling is not only cost-efficient but absolutely necessary.

As to the responder who says that grandmas will be carrying bombs, fine. If and when we have grandmas blowing up airliners, then we will add that category to the list.

I urge the feds to adopt the El Al model. Terrorists would LOVE to blow up an Israeli airliner, but they can't seem to do it--and El Al doesn't use scanners. Hmmm...

By Ammohunt on 11/15/2010 2:59:50 PM , Rating: 2
reminds me of the many time i flew commercial airlines in the middle east during the beginning of the Iraq invasion. The planes were typically full of Arabs i had no worry of terrorism on those flights.

By bodar on 11/16/2010 6:57:18 AM , Rating: 2
The word 'profiling' is a political invention by people who don't want to do security. To us, it doesn't matter if he's black, white, young or old. It's just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I'm doing this?
You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training. But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept

-- Rafi Sela

And yet we still pump tons of money into these half-thought measures so that some corrupt politician can get kickbacks from the lobbyists who pimp them and some mouthbreathers can "feel" safer when they get on a plane.

It's not about profiling; it's about having smart, well-trained staff and using multilayered security.

By Motoman on 11/15/2010 12:08:50 PM , Rating: 2
These scanners are a total waste of time and money.

I think you meant:

"The TSA is a total waste of time and money."

No need to just single out one of the charades they have you go through.

By Drag0nFire on 11/15/2010 1:18:26 PM , Rating: 2
I flew just last week from Boston. I went through a metal detector, then a backscatter x-ray, then got my crotch patted down / felt up by a TSA agent. Why bother with the x-ray if you're going to pat me down anyways?

For the record, this was after removing just about everything from my person but my pants and shirt. And the TSA officer was a total douche.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By Hiawa23 on 11/15/2010 10:59:18 AM , Rating: 2
I really don't get the argument. I understand if many think the machines adds cancer risk, & if this is so, then why fuss when they do a body pat down?

I flew last month,they did not have the body scan but the guy felt me up all over(36 hetero male).

Honestly I had no issue with this, & I would have gone through the scanner had they had that.

I could be wrong, but many people seem to be embarrassed to see themselves scanned or something, & are embarrassed to be pat down.

I would rather be patted down or get the body scan if it's safe rather than get on a plane that gets blown up by a terrorist.

If there is proof of increased exposure to cancer then they need to address this issue. Seems that many don't want to be scanned or patted down, of which I really don't get.

Maybe some are just not comfortable with the extra pounds they might have packed on & would rather not deal with that.

RE: Death by terrorist or by skin cancer?
By kattanna on 11/15/2010 11:10:45 AM , Rating: 2
I would rather be patted down or get the body scan if it's safe rather than get on a plane that gets blown up by a terrorist

and just how many people die each year from terrorists blowing up planes?

your far more likely to die driving to the store, then dying from a plane blowing up.

By geddarkstorm on 11/15/2010 2:11:17 PM , Rating: 2
And more likely dying from a plain and simple plane accident.

This whole security stuff seems to have gone way overboard, I do have to admit. It's actually getting rather creepy.

By TheDoc9 on 11/15/2010 12:26:11 PM , Rating: 3
Personally I have a huge issue with this. I'll do a patdown but never step into an x-ray machine that's "perfectly safe". My kids will never do it either. I'd also rather drive before I subject them to some pervert also.

I guess some people are ok with billy bob dumbass looser feeling them up, and their wife and kids.

By marvdmartian on 11/15/2010 3:46:07 PM , Rating: 1
the TSA - leading the world in protecting us from yesterday's threats!!

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