Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

Summary: In the 1990 movie Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger runs through a security check point using x-ray technology. Today that technology is being installed around the world at airports, border check points, marine ports and high risk security environments such as court buildings.

TOPICS: Security

In the movie Total Recall, Arnold Schwarzenegger (Gov. of California) runs through a security check point corridor operating using X-Ray technology. That film was released in 1990. Today that technology is being installed around the world at airports, border check points, marine ports and high risk security environments such as court buildings. They are currently being assessed or used in Canada, the U.S., U.K., Russia, Japan, and Australia. Some countries, such as India, have outright rejected them based on privacy and considered too offensive to passengers. Significant concern is being raised as to the long term medical impacts to humans going through the devices.

In Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency (CATSA) organization has completed some field trials at smaller airports (Kelowna, B.C.) and is looking to purchase a half dozen of the machines to continue further assessment. There are approximately 18 airports in the U.S. using them. In the U.K. several airports now have them including Manchester. Testing in several countries has been going since 2004. In the U.S. the Transportation Security Administration began field trials in 2007. The technology offers security details to process passengers quickly and determine if weapons or other contraband is on a person without doing physical body search. Such technology would significantly improve the detection of hidden materials.

The type of X-ray used in these machines is called backscatter, because it sees an image radiated back to device from one side of the person. Health concerns have emerged. Early designs of the device could penetrate 4 inches of solid steel. For human screening purposes the levels are significantly less at 0.005 millirems of radiation. But what about frequent flyers? They may have significant concerns about the use of this technology and higher than average use compared to the casual holiday traveler. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the average exposure to radiation a human absorbs is 360 millirems per year from all sources.

The last issue is privacy.  Many argue that it can be maintained and still satisfy privacy regulators. The Government of Ontario's Privacy Commissioner has released a report assessing backscatter technology specifically regarding usage at airports. In it, the primary requirement is ensuring that the proper software is installed to maintain body privacy and still ensure proper operation of the machine.  Canada's Federal Privacy Commission does have concerns on how long data is stored and if it is categorized to passenger manifests.  Those issues have yet to be fully resolved in Canada.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been against the use of this technology as far back as 2006 and has not changed its position.

In the U.S., the Transportation Security Agency has yet to come out with regulations or rules with respect to  backscatter technology and data collected. The TSA states that the agency adheres to the  U.S. Privacy Act of 1974.

Additional resources: Privacy Commissioner of Canada Privacy Impact Assessment

Topic: Security

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  • X-ray screening is bad

    How about we just have everyone strip naked and pass all our cloths and carry-ons through the scanner instead? There's no such thing as privacy in the Nazi-run American airports anyway.
    • I sort of agree...

      If everyone was gassed, stripped, x-rayed, sniffed and then packed like sardines it would make everyone happier.

      For one, I wouldn't have to put up with crying babies and screaming kids for 11 hours on a trans-Pacific flight.

      Just sayin' ....
    • cultural

      Yet another Asian emotional objection rather than material one.

      In the west, our ancestors fought or competed naked, because we are
      proud of excellence. Infirmary is not a character flaw. And we do not
      see saving 'face' as gracious but deceitful. We see contribution of true
      statements as contributions to the social order, and a sign of merit
      and honor.

      (For humor) We could instead, simply adopt Asian racism, and not let
      people in, or follow 'visitors' around with police lest they report on our
      corruption and slavery, or tattoo religious and political biases on
      people's foreheads, and not let members of competing sects into the
      country, or on our airlines. Or, we could adopt Russian and Chinese
      standards of corruption, and simply triple prices for anyone who
      doesn't speak our language in order to keep them out.

      Personally, as long as it's not damaging to my health, I really like the
      idea more than waiting in line, or being frisked by some overweight
      malcontent on a power trip.

    • Wouldn't work anyway

      ..if you strip naked. You could still walk in with
      a pound of Semtex up your ass
      • Wow!!! I bet you are fun to party with...

        Just saying... LOL
    • I would not mind if..

      The TSA agents that we giving the stip naked search were smoking hot chicks with nice tits. I maybe i can offer i ride on disco stick ;-)
    • more than 3000 people have privacy now......

      what a load of cobblers!!! The security at US airports is only JUST getting up to the levels used in UK for the past 20 years or more!!! Get over it...the US has caused more than enough problems so now they are having to get used to the inconvienience that the rest of the World has suffered from for ages due to US trying to rule the world and dictate what people can and cannot do.
      • We told England to stick it a while back

        I thought we took care of that matter in 1776 when we got tired of your limey rubbish and bollocks...
      • Privacy qualms

        The reason that the UK and USA are so anal about security is that both are working together to become like imperial Rome. (To put the blame on the USA alone is stupid. We couldn't have done without your help.) We both are hated world-wide and deservedly so. Our governments just can't understand that for all the harm they're doing and continue to do, that there will retribution, both from within and without.
  • RE: Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

    I'm just going to ask for personal screening. Mostly because I have lots of metal already in my body. Pins, Plates and a couple bullets to close to things to pull out. For all I know this machine would microwave me.

    But if everyone did demand screenings, this technology would die a quick death.
  • I went through the x-ray in a trial

    Was asked if I would participate when leaving London. Not
    a problem for me so I went through it. I did get to see the
    last image before it was deleted and ended up feeling sorry
    for the dude that had to watch the screen all day.

    My basic impression was that it was too slow for heavy
    traffic, but would work as a secondary screen if you set off
    the alarm.
  • RE: Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

    I think this is a good solution to prevent the need for more invasive searches (strip search, body cavity search, etc). It's just how the times are now.
  • RE: Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

    I have stainless steel knees in both legs. Phoenix has a back scatter machine and I use it anytime I fly. It takes just a minute or two as opposed to the 5 minutes or more I spend getting wanded and patted down. the machine is a lot more pleasant and certainly less obtrusive.
  • X-ray Screening is a Good Alternative

    Having worked in the medical imaging field for my entire career, I avoid unnecessary radiation (such a frequent dental x-rays). I do not see x-ray systems as mass screening device for the typical passenger due to many economic and social reasons.But, rather than go back to pre-9/11 security, I will take a little extra radiation.
    • X-ray screening is a good alternative, not

      What I see through all these replies is an inherent trust in the X-ray screening process. What if the level of intensity of the rays were bumped up, either accidently or intentionally? How many would suffer? X-rays (and EMF radiation) cause cause DNA damage and cancer. X-ray damage is accumulative. Most of us are already damaged by Wi-Fi, cell phones and their towers, microwaves, etc. All this damage is irreversible and cumulative. I think you are all far more ignorant that you realize. Remember, it is what you don't know that you don't know that will shock you. Trusting government in this day and age of unbridled greed and NWO control is sheer folly.
  • This technology could have an unforseen meducal benefit.

    Could you now use your medical insurance to pay for travel by calling this a diagnostic tool? What if you doctor writes a prescription for travel to reduce the high risk of stress? Can traveler get copies of their scans sent to their physicians?

  • RE: Human x-ray machines: Coming soon to an airport near you

    The "Measuring Radiation's Effect" table in this article is based on the disproven "Linear, No-Threshhold" (LNT) Hypothesis of low level radiation effects. Cf. for more recent scientific advances. Turns out that extra low level radiation (up to 10-20 thousand millirem) makes us healthier. Of course, too much of anything can kill, such as aspirin, water, oxygen. A single dose over 300 thousand millirem WILL make you sick.
  • It adds up.

    Airports are one thing but once you open the box...

    Think about building screening and courier deliveries. A courier could go into 50-100 buildings in a single day. Do the math. I'm not saying that all buildings that he/she could go into would/could have this but this needs to be considered.

    Maybe the T-Rays is a better way to go?
    • The Sad Fact Is

      The sad fact is that there are probably tons of these machines hidden around already and you never even know when you've been scanned. Like the courier guy, if someone goes into multiple buildings every day and gets scanned hundreds of times a year..... is he going to get sick? Or die a horrible death? And while we're at it, the technicians that watch these scans should be trained to watch for abnormal health issues and required to notify the person scanned. Yup, the paranoia of a few WILL get the better of us all.

      There will need to be some kind of controls over the use of these systems. Or some device that people can buy that tells them when they have been scanned or better yet, about to walk into a scanner. If bad guys can get these too then the scanners are worthless for detection of explosives or other weapons except in a highly controlled environment, such as an airport security scan. Get scanned or walk to your destination....
  • What has changed? certainly not security

    Throw all the tech at the issue you want...
    The only thing that has changed is the threshold of cleverness required to defeat the security system.

    If you have the best / most un-breakable encryption system for protecting your data.. you have just changed the security weakness from technology to human...
    (which was likely the weakness link in the beginning)

    But you haven't really improved the security of the data.
    Same is true of airport security...

    all this effort.. just to calm people's fears.

    Witness the security of our our largest military base.
    Still ended up with 12 dead...