Customs seeks x-ray body scanner bids

Summary:Customs and Border Protection has begun its search for partners to implement a one-year trial of x-ray-style airport scanners that it claims will better detect drug traffickers.

Customs and Border Protection has begun its search for partners to implement a one-year trial of x-ray-style airport scanners that it claims will better detect drug traffickers.

Millimetre-wave scanners currently used under a separate trial to Customs'.
(Credit: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

The body scanner Customs is seeking to introduce at an Australian airport early next year differs from the trial that is currently being undertaken by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport in Sydney and Melbourne. Unlike the existing voluntary trial, which uses low-energy millimetre waves to detect metal and non-metal items under clothing, Customs' proposed trial body scanner will use x-rays to determine if a suspect is carrying illicit drugs within their body cavities.

Customs and Border Protection said that the scanners would not be used for all passengers, but only when there is a reasonable suspicion that the person is carrying drugs internally. The body scan would also only occur if the person provided their consent and is an alternative to the current practice of performing a potentially invasive medical procedure.

Tender documents released this week said that Customs would contract a company for an initial period of two years to supply, install and maintain the body scanners, as well as train Customs officers in the use of them. One of the general requirements Customs outlined in the documents was that its officers must be able to perform all operational functions of the scanner after receiving training, eliminating the need to contract external operators.

However, the locations where the scanner will be deployed has remained under wraps, over fears that if drug mules knew where it was located, they would simply avoid that terminal.

Customs specified that if the body scanners are able to produce images of items on the skin or in the clothing, the capability must be disabled and require only the supplier or an authorised representative to re-enable it, since the scanner is only intended for searching body cavities.

Customs' other considerations for the design of the body scanners were that it had to operate at the lowest possible level of exposure to any radiation source, have visual and audible malfunction indicators, and be fitted with emergency auto cut-off switch that would allow immediate and total shut-down of the machine.

Operation of the trial is expected to commence early next year and will involve ongoing radiation safety checks and three-monthly summaries of the body scanner's performance. These summaries require the successful tenderer to meet with Customs to discuss items such as health and safety issues, disputes, non-compliances, and any relevant industry and technology developments.

After the trial is completed in 2013, Customs will spend three months evaluating the body scanner's overall performance and come to a decision on whether to decommission it or procure additional scanners.

Topics: Security, After Hours, Government : AU, Hardware


A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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