Body scanners coming to airports in July

Body scanners coming to airports in July

Summary: Passengers heading in and out of Australia's international airports will be facing random screenings via new body scanners set to be deployed around the country from July, with the government insisting that passenger privacy and safety is at the top of the list when it comes to the new technology.

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update Passengers heading in and out of Australia's international airports will be facing random screenings via new body scanners set to be deployed around the country from July, with the government insisting that passenger privacy and safety is at the top of the list when it comes to the new technology.

Scanner output

A millimetre-wave scanner shows a stick figure outlined with areas of interest highlighted in yellow.
(Credit: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)

Millimetre-wave body scanners will be deployed in all of Australia's international terminals from the middle of the year, as part of the government's $200 million push to make the skies safer.

Unlike controversial scanners used by the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) in the United States, however, the new scanners headed for Aussie shores display a screened passenger as a stick figure, with no discernible features visible. This means that men, women and children will all show up the same, with only metal and some non-metal areas highlighted.

The scanners have the sign-off from the privacy commissioner, and they won't store any of the images, destroying them immediately in order to protect privacy.

The government has also addressed potential health concerns raised by the scanners, comparing the amount of radiation absorbed from the scanners to that of "passive exposure to a mobile phone used several metres away". However, this may come as cold comfort, if recent research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the cancer-causing effects of radiation is to be believed.

While passengers will be randomly selected for the new scanners at launch in July, the government said that as time goes on, the Office of Transport Security may incorporate the equipment into the standard-screening regime for passengers, with those objecting to the scanners for any reason other than a verifiable medical condition to be unable to board their flight.

Despite this proposed no-scan, no-fly policy, the government has no plans to deploy the scanners at the country's domestic airports.

The office of the minister for Infrastructure and Transportation told ZDNet Australia that the scanners will be looking for items that can slip through conventional metal detectors, like ceramic knives and other makeshift, non-conventional weaponry.

The scanners were trialled by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport prior to launch, in tandem with a trial of x-ray-scanning technology by the Customs and Border Protection Service. Unlike the millimetre-wave scanners, the customs trial was an opt-in screening, triggered only if customs agents had a high suspicion of passengers carrying drugs internally.

Updated at 2:25pm, 7 February 2012: incorrectly attributed new airport screening methods to the Customs and Border Protection Service. The agency carrying out the scans will be the Office of Transport Security.

Topics: Government, Government AU, Security, Travel Tech

Luke Hopewell

About Luke Hopewell

A fresh recruit onto the tech journalism battlefield, Luke Hopewell is eager to see some action. After a tour of duty in the belly of the Telstra beast, he is keen to report big stories on the enterprise beat. Drawing on past experience in radio, print and magazine, he plans to ask all the tough questions you want answered.

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Talkback

6 comments
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  • The radiation may be measurable to that of a mobile phone, but the difference is a mobile phones radiation permeates and travels through our body, the radiation given off in these scanners enters the skin (less than 15% surface area) meaning more than 6 times the radiation. This puts anyone over 65, pregnant women, young children and breast cancer prone women in danger, as well as HIV and melanoma patients at higher risk. My source stems from the study taken by John Sedat Ph.D & Marc Shuman MD. An easy example is like placing a baby in a bath without supervision because 'there isn't as much water as a pool' Thanks Australian Government...
    nickgalea
  • I thought that the security associated with flying was supposed to be loosening, not increasing.

    Fair point nickgalea, but if people are worried about the radiation dose they should not be flying in the first place. A Trans-atlantic flight's cosmotic radiation due to the altitude will far outweigh any dose you receive from this scan. I have not seen the exact dose this scan give and length, but i can say with certainty it is far less than a conventional CT, which people have frequently. It may be the same as a chest x-ray depending on the length of the scan (which is as good as nothing compared with background radiation dose you get from being outside on a daily basis)

    I am not pulling this from a study, but from experience in the radiation field.
    Land0
  • I'm not worried about radiation as much as I'm worried about our own government eroding our basic rights to freedom of movement and the presumption of innocence.
    Scott W-ef9ad
  • Radiation is bad !!
    SabrinaS-e160e
  • I, for one - will just choose NOT to spend my money in Australia. Simple really - they, like the Americans will lose alot of money to potential tourists. My problem with this stuff is that you are assumed guilty until proven innocent, which in principle is just plain wrong.
    JoanieB-606dc
  • After this it could be very easy to identify the vulnerability products.
    Manasy