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TSA (Finally) Studying Health Effects of Body Scanners

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the different-kind-of-transparency dept.

Government 225

An anonymous reader writes "A 2011 ProPublica series found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by its X-ray body scanners at airports across the country. While countries in Europe have long prohibited the scanners, the TSA is just now getting around to studying the health effects." I'm not worried; the posters and recorded announcements at the airport say these scanners raise no health concerns.

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225 comments

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This is a distraction from the real issue. (5, Insightful)

InvisibleClergy (1430277) | about 2 years ago | (#42326575)

The real issue with these was never the health effects. That was just an extra thing that privacy advocates tossed in there to lend additional weight to their arguments. The primary argument against these things is the fact that they are a violation of privacy. Arguing the health issue just weakens objections, when it gets defeated.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (5, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#42326641)

Personally I don't care about that kind of "privacy". I'd say the time I stopped caring was around the time I lost my virginity. I do care about getting cancer though.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326711)

"Think of the children/wife/sister/mother/grandmother!" response in 3... 2... 1...

captcha: pricked

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (5, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42326717)

Well, that's OK then. So long as YOU don't care, neither should anybody else.

The rape victims, the sexually assaulted, the people with any sort of problem should just get over it, right?

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (0)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#42326799)

Yes. Expressing my personal opinion on the matter to point out that some people care more about cancer than privacy clearly means that all that stuff is okay. Good job.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42327381)

Don't you think you should care about both of those things even if one of them doesn't particularly bother YOU, personally?

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (0)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42326871)

Darwin says yes.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326961)

No, Darwin would not say that. Herbert Spencer, the person who originated the phrase "survival of the fittest", on the other hand might. "Social Darwinism", eugenics, etc. had little to do with Darwin's own work and writings and more to do with people using his work to push those ideas.

Did you stop caring yesterday then ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327027)

I had to do it sorrrrry :D.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327147)

You must be a "girl". I didn't there were any "girls" on SlashDot!

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (4, Interesting)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42327241)

There are problems with many of the arguments against the scanners.
The medical danger should be a concern to everyone, but evidence suggests that the danger is negligible (though possibly nonzero).
The privacy danger is patently obvious and verifiable (though sometimes overstated), but it's just not a concern to many.
The cost-benefit argument has the problem that the "benefit" can be very difficult to accurately measure and the government may choose not to disclose data about whether the devices are beneficial. (This is, regardless, the argument I prefer.)

That's not to say there are no problems with arguments for the scanners. At the very least (the very least), it makes sense to use the microwave scanners over the X-ray backscatter. The medical danger is known to be zero, which is even better than the backscatter's best-case of "is probably zero". Even if they're less effective, we don't seem to be relying on either system to be particularly effective.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327693)

This isn't about exposed dicks and pussies, this is an invasion of privacy that runs much further than that. If you can't see that, then you still have some growing up to do.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (1, Funny)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | about 2 years ago | (#42327809)

I stopped caring was around the time I lost my virginity.

Ha.. nice try. You're clearly lying. This is Slashdot.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326663)

I can't speak for everyone, but personally I value my lack of cancer more than I do my privacy.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326869)

I cant speak for everyone, but I personally value my privacy more than my lack of cancer.

Incidentally, despite sounding like a funny reply, I'm not joking.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326927)

The cancer risk is hypothetical, and if it exists it is almost certainly minute.

Meanwhile, everybody is getting their rights violated, all the time, for certain. That in itself should be more than enough to toss the things.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327521)

As others have said, I'll believe that the cancer risk is hypothetical or neglegible, but ONLY if every scanner must go through the same rigorous requirements needed for any other medical x-ray machine to be certified.

As it stands, they're built by the lowest bidder (or whoever happens to be related to someone high up in the TSA, which is possibly even worse, since they're likely corrupt as hell too). So while they're *supposed* to put out X amount of radiation, I'd like to know that it's literally an physical impossibility that it can ever put out 5X or 500X radiation due to cutting corners or poor design.

Until those are done, I'll consider the cancer risk of those to potentially be the same as the Shoe-fitting fluoroscope [wikipedia.org] . Because seriously, who's telling me they're safe right now? The people that are extremely biased towards, and have the vast majority of their existence based on, the scanners being safe, after being built by the lowest common denominator.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (2)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42326857)

Sounds like a strawman plant.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (1)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | about 2 years ago | (#42327555)

recreational strawman use has been recently voted legal in 2 states.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (5, Insightful)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#42326931)

It's more than that. It's a blatant violation of the 4th Amendment. They have no good reason to search so invasively each and every person in this country who flies. There's no basis for them to believe that every person is a possible terrorist. It's just a blatant, idiotic expansion of powers and a jobs program for the terminally unemployable so jackasses can stand behind the metal detectors and look like they're important.

The TSA has accomplished precisely shit in the entirety of its existence. It's successfully engaged in mission creep as it starts doing things for the DEA and whatnot, and managed to violate the dignity of a growing number of people. I have no respect for anyone that works for the TSA, on both a professional and personal level.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327685)

You forgot to mention "and steal your stuff".

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (1)

Microlith (54737) | about 2 years ago | (#42327995)

That too. I always make sure to point out that I'd like for my stuff to not be stolen, and ask 'em to hurry up with calling over the ballgrabber.

Re:This is a distraction from the real issue. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327239)

I thought cancer clusters were also discovered by TSA employees. If true, I believe that does hint there are significant health concerns and that European bans are well justified. Of course, that's all over and above the privacy violations.

The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (4, Funny)

BMOC (2478408) | about 2 years ago | (#42326583)

...In context with Fukushima and a non-polluting energy source: RADIATION BAD!

...In context with police state enabling technology: RADIATION GOOD!

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326719)

Hate to rain on your parade, but nuclear radiation is a completely different thing from electromagnetic radiation. They happen to both have the word "radiation" in them, but they're really not the same thing.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (5, Informative)

jwinterm (2740003) | about 2 years ago | (#42326813)

Hate to rain on your parade, but gamma rays and x-rays are both just photons. What do you mean they're not the same thing? They're exactly the same thing, they just originate from different parts of the atom.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (1, Informative)

jmauro (32523) | about 2 years ago | (#42327513)

Yes and no. Only Gamma radiation is electromagnetic in nature. Alpha and Beta radiations are not photons at all, but atomic particles ejected with high energy. An Alpha particle is a helium atom without electrons and a Beta particle is free neutron.

Depending on the radiation source you may get any of the radioactive emission types and all three are dangerous, but to differing degrees depending on volume and location of exposure.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327593)

Wavelength changes everything, genius.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (4, Informative)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42326895)

Nuclear radiation IS electromagnetic radiation.

That's what photons ARE, packets of electromagnetic impulses.

Gamma rays just happen to have higher frequencies than microwaves or radio waves, but fundamentally they are both light.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (2)

rwise2112 (648849) | about 2 years ago | (#42327515)

Nuclear radiation IS electromagnetic radiation.

That's what photons ARE, packets of electromagnetic impulses.

Gamma rays just happen to have higher frequencies than microwaves or radio waves, but fundamentally they are both light.

To be pedantic, actually nuclear radiation comes in three types: gamma, alpha, and beta radiation. Only gamma radiation is EM, the others are particle decays.

Photon is photn is photon (2)

aepervius (535155) | about 2 years ago | (#42327071)

All those radiation are in the same "nature" they are electromagnetic radiation, or better called photon. They differs in *energy* and thus in effect. Simplifying, Microwave will excite barely rotational level in molecules, Infra red is akin to vibrational levels in structure/molecules, and short infrared/color/UV is electron excitation from an outter shell level to another. Xray more or less is excitation from the inner core shell level. Gamma is even more, can only be gotten IIRC thru nuclear reactions. But they are the same in nature, only the different energy level and the quantic nature of matter make the effect different.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (1)

WaffleMonster (969671) | about 2 years ago | (#42328093)

Hate to rain on your parade, but nuclear radiation is a completely different thing from electromagnetic radiation. They happen to both have the word "radiation" in them, but they're really not the same thing.

Alpha rays are a helium nucleus

Beta is electrons like what excites phosphors in yer old CRT TV.

Both Alpha and Beta are trivially shielded by small amounts of air, matter, layers of skin..etc. Normally quite harmless unless injested or inhaled then quite deadly.

Gamma rays are high energy photons like the ones presumably collected by Chekov when he beamed aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise.

This "electromagic radiation" is quite dangerous and the reason we require large quantities of bulky matter to shield humans from exposure to "electromagnetic radiation".

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (2)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42327025)

...In context with Fukushima and a non-polluting energy source: RADIATION BAD!

In the context of nuclear power, "radiation" really is referring to radioactive isotopes and potentially-large quantities of high-energy electromagnetic radition, alpha rays, and beta rays. In the context of a nuclear accident like Fukushima, it more is referring to the uncontrolled dispersal of radioactive isotopes (which are toxic independent of their radioactivity) and the uncontrolled release of very large quantities of mostly high-energy electromagnetic radiation.

...In context with police state enabling technology: RADIATION GOOD!

In the context of backscatter X-ray scanners, "radiation" is referring to controlled exposure to a known and very small quantity of relatively low-energy (but still ionizing) electromagnetic radiation.

As another example: In context with cell phones: RADIATION MAYBE BAD?

In the context of cell phones, "radiation" is generally referring to controlled exposure to a measurable and limited (but highly variable) quantity of low-energy, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation.

It turns out "radiation" is used in a technical context to refer to a lot of things -- to the point that it should not be used along in a technical context. In a casual context, it's used to refer to an even broader set of things -- to the point that "radiation" does not help clarify the situation (though it may serve to incite a reaction) unless you know a priori what kind of radiation you're talking about.

Hunh. Who would've thought: context does matter!

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (1)

BMOC (2478408) | about 2 years ago | (#42327273)

Chance of measurable exposure to loose radioactive isotopes in the environment after 2 major nuclear accidents in the world: >0.000001%

Chance of ionizing some of your cellular chemistry from high-school-education-level TSA employees using an X-ray source to see your body before you get on a plane: 100%

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (2)

ajlitt (19055) | about 2 years ago | (#42327587)

Chance of measurable increased exposure to ionizing cosmic rays once the plane is at altitude: 100%

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (1)

tylikcat (1578365) | about 2 years ago | (#42327941)

But the wavelength and penetrance is substantially different - we know an awful lot about the radiation exposure associated with flying. We know less about the effects of the radiation exposure from the backscatter scanners, and TSA fudged their numbers in icky misleading ways (calculating exposure as if it were spread throughout the body, etc). That TSA presented the radiation from flying and radiation from backscatter as equivalent also seemed quite misleading - though, of course, incompetence is also always a possibility.

We don't know what the actual risk is. Neither does TSA.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327331)

In the context of nuclear power, "radiation" really is referring to radioactive isotopes and potentially-large quantities of high-energy electromagnetic radition, alpha rays, and beta rays.

Particles, not rays. Alpha (a helium nucleus) and beta (electrons/positrons) would best be described as particles. As would neutron decay, which would certainly be another serious radiation concern in a Fukushima incident.

Re:The hypocrisy just keeps getting worse. (4, Funny)

TCQuad (537187) | about 2 years ago | (#42327285)

Radiation for all!
Boooo!
Very well, no radiation for anyone!
Boooo!
Hmm... Radiation for some, miniature American flags for others!
Yaaaay!

Let me guess (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326597)

They will find no statistical relation between scanners and (cancer/any other health concerns).

Can i get the money they would save on this study then?

Re:Let me guess (4, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42326751)

Says who? Do you have hard info on this type of radiation?

If the machines only give one person in 100 million cancer, they're still more dangerous then the terrorism they're supposed to be preventing.

(Which they aren't...terrorists can put the C4 up their asses...)

Re:Let me guess (3, Insightful)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about 2 years ago | (#42326833)

Says who? Do you have hard info on this type of radiation?

GP is suggesting that the TSA study will back up whatever the TSA wants it to. Almost as if it's a foregone conclusion. Almost like they're gonna deliberately fudge the results. See?

Re:Let me guess (3, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42326937)

Says who? Do you have hard info on this type of radiation?

I do. If you really want result "X" and you are willing to pay a lot of money to someone to produce a report that looks like they did something science-y that co-incidentally matches the conclusions you were looking for, and you make it perfectly clear they'll never get another penny from their sole source of research funding (the fedgov) then yeah, I think I can predict the result.

Same thing as tobacco companies reporting their stuff is safe, or pretty much every pharmaceutical (coincidentally, most of them almost accidentally happen to be safe), etc etc. Even "x% of dentists prefer Y brand toothpaste".

The only real question is how psuedo-science-y it'll be. Will they play the natl security card and not release any data other than "I've got a PHD, trust me" or will they take the different track of contracting out to a subsidiary of the machine mfgr, or will they have the good taste to at least distance themselves into hiring the CEO's brother in law, or will they go the bribery track and the guy who plays along gets a plum job at the mfgr "safety scientist" or some BS next year ... what exact form of corruption will they use is the only question, not will it be corrupt or not.

The funniest part is the journalist filter is calling them x-ray scanners but I'm guessing the actual report is THz scanners. Xrays see thru things, THz sees thru things, therefore a dumbass would assume they must be the same.

Re:Let me guess (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42327085)

If the machines only give one person in 100 million cancer, they're still more dangerous then the terrorism they're supposed to be preventing.

And if they give one person in 100 billion cancer, they might not be. Quantification matters, and you can be wrong by 3 orders of magnitude even with back-of-the-envelope calculations (to say nothing of the accuracy of pulling numbers out of thin air).

Says who? Do you have hard info on this type of radiation?

It depends on what you're actually asking. Amount of exposure caused by the devices? Body tissue absorption and cellular damage efficacy of radiation of that frequency? Dosage to cancer probability increase? All of these are publicly-documented. The most poorly-known factor, to my knowledge, is whether the linear-to-zero model of dosage to cancer probability is valid. It is, however, a fairly pessimistic model and the one that is used in estimating the danger of low-dose radiation.

Re:Let me guess (1)

Bobfrankly1 (1043848) | about 2 years ago | (#42327517)

(Which they aren't...terrorists can put the C4 up their asses...)

Which is what the vast majority of people have been telling terrorists to do for quite some time. Sadly, it seems they started listening...

Yawn (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326633)

Is this what Slashdot has to offer? What happened to this place?

Re:Yawn (1)

ArcadeMan (2766669) | about 2 years ago | (#42326689)

A hundred thousand lemmings can't be wrong!

Re:Yawn (1)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42326905)

They aren't right.

It's just treason to disagree with them.

Re:Yawn (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#42326709)

You must be new here.

Re:Yawn (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327269)

Is this it? Is this all you can conjure, Slashdot?

FTFY [i.qkme.me]

Inevitable conclusion! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326693)

Don't worry, I'm sure that in the fifteen to twenty years of politically-minded delays^W^W^W "research" chock full of potentially cancer-causing radiation and privacy violations, the billions of dollars spent by the company — sorry, JOB CREATOR(tm) (hallowed be its name) — responsible for selling these devices to the government and the millions spent by the government officials who mandated this in the first place who would rather not be embarrassed by inconvenient facts will clearly state how good, righteous, and Christian these devices are, and that what they radiate is in fact PATRIOTISM and FREEDOM, meaning you're clearly a terrorist for showing any sort of critical thought against these noble extensions of GOD himself.

(note: yes, I'm assuming my delete-word escape sequence stops at hyphens)

Not just airport scanners (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326729)

Practically every mall store has a shoplift tag detector you have to walk through to get in and out of the store, although obviously the dosage is much less than the airport scanners. I'm a bit worried about the effect of those on the eyes.

Re:Not just airport scanners (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42326985)

Not to mention the frequency range is about 6 to 10 orders of magnitude lower... Its not relevant beyond the "I don't understand therefore I'm scared, and I don't want to understand, so you do the math" level.

Re:Not just airport scanners (1)

blueg3 (192743) | about 2 years ago | (#42327121)

The dosage is much less than the airport scanners. In that the dosage of ionizing radiation in airport scanners is nonzero (for X-ray backscatter type scanners) and the dosage of ionizing radiation in anti-shoplifting RFID detectors is zero. So, yeah, pretty different. I wouldn't worry about the effect, though. It's zero too.

Re:Not just airport scanners (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327387)

Practically every mall store has a shoplift tag detector you have to walk through to get in and out of the store, although obviously the dosage is much less than the airport scanners. I'm a bit worried about the effect of those on the eyes.

The problem is there are actually several distinct devices:

Some us optical light, others use sonar, and the ones everyone is afraid of use x-ray.

Unfortunately, reporters can't be arsed to sort this out and just lump all the "naked picture machines" together assuming the underlying technologies are all equivalent.

Just Sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326745)

When I opted out of the body scanner last time I went through the airport the TSA security told me that it was "just sound". I had to fight all my urges to explain the difference between sound and electromagnetic radiation.

Capitalisim (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326753)

The body scanners aren't really there for safety. They're a cash grab for to scanner makers, who are politically connected to the TSA.

Re:Capitalisim (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326897)

Scanner makers grabbing *tax* money and/or lobbying for favorable (to them) laws and regulations because of their TSA connections is a form of socialism.

Re:Capitalisim (1)

geminidomino (614729) | about 2 years ago | (#42326955)

Yeah, no, it's not.

Re:Capitalisim (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327001)

Nope. It's crony capitalism. Socialists are very much against what you would ascribe as socialism.

Re:Capitalisim [sic] (5, Informative)

Vainglorious Coward (267452) | about 2 years ago | (#42326997)

They're a cash grab for scanner makers, who are politically connected to the TSA.

eg Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security secretary who shilled hard on the "need" to install full-body scanners, then later acknowledged that his consulting agency had a client that manufactured the machines. That is the kind of corruption one would expect in a third world tinpot dictatorship.

Study should be done outside its influence (5, Insightful)

BrendaEM (871664) | about 2 years ago | (#42326777)

These scanners should have to go through the same FDA approval process as any medical device. People are putting their kids in there.
If the odds of getting cancer from the scanners in their lifetime is 1: 1,000,000 then 1.5 people will get cancer from them--every day!

We cannot suspend our judgement just because there are terrorists in the world and money to be made.

Re:Study should be done outside its influence (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326959)

These scanners should have to go through the same FDA approval process as any medical device. People are putting their kids in there.
If the odds of getting cancer from the scanners in their lifetime is 1: 1,000,000 then 1.5 people will get cancer from them--every day!

We cannot suspend our judgement just because there are terrorists in the world and money to be made.

I think the issue here is with people who travel a lot from and to america, which would largely include american businessmen.

Just flying will increase your radiation dose, I guess the biggest question is really if these increase it by any significant portion. If they do contribute a significant radiation dose, they should not be used.

Medical devices don't have the same issue, x-ray total dose can be controlled, by simply not doing an x-ray.

Re:Study should be done outside its influence (2)

shentino (1139071) | about 2 years ago | (#42326963)

This is nothing more than the strong oppressing the weak.

The weak being passengers and the strong being the feds.

I point out that the feds have put the TSA with a gun held to air commerce since everyone who boards a plane has to go through them.

So the TSA naturally feels no obligation to not abuse their power.

Since passengers don't have a choice, they have no leverage to resist it.

Add to this non refundable airline tickets and you have passengers locked in for abuse even before they arrive at the airport.

TSA incompetence (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326987)

"These scanners should have to go through the same FDA approval process as any medical device."

Is merely approving the device nearly enough? Do you really trust poorly educated, overworked, and underpaid TSA employees to properly calibrate, use, and maintain these machines?

Even with medical-grade x-ray technology that's FDA certified, and operated by way more qualified technicians than the TSA is ever likely to bother with has had accidents [nytimes.com] when massive overdoses of radiation have been administered... sometimes to lethal effect.

Re:Study should be done outside its influence (1)

LordNimon (85072) | about 2 years ago | (#42326995)

People are putting their kids in there.

I've flown several times and have never been in one of these scanners. As soon as the TSA staff see my children, we're routed through the metal detectors instead.

Re:Study should be done outside its influence (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about 2 years ago | (#42327023)

We cannot suspend our judgement just because we are constantly told there are terrorists in the world and money to be made.

FTFY.

After all, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

Re:Study should be done outside its influence (3, Interesting)

eviljav (68734) | about 2 years ago | (#42327039)

Then, in the span of about 5 years, these scanners will have caused cancer in a greater number of people than the number of people killed by terrorists on 9/11/2001?

Prediction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326793)

In a controversial decision, the independent review decided that it didn't need to check the devices themselves, but simply re-review the findings of the TSA's own review of their own devices.

Equally controversial, the finding was that the scanners are perfectly safe, and passengers have no need to worry whatsoever. With the decision, the TSA goes ahead with its plan to eliminate the option to be patted down, forcing the only option to be to go through the scanner to fly. As well, these now become mandatory for train travel, with busses soon to follow, as well as all border crossings.

The head of the independent reviewers who brought forth the results was pleased at his results, and went back to his home which inexplicably had another floor built onto it, and a pool installed in the back yard. When asked, the reviewer claimed the funds for such an extravagant upgrade came as a gift from a friend.

Re:Prediction (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42327029)

As well, these now become mandatory for train travel

Somebody's going to hijack Thomas the Tank Engine and crash him into the Freedom Tower, thus collapsing it... not likely. More likely is people switching to train travel, so the airlines purchased the regulation that train passengers must be harassed and punished as much as airplane passengers.

After years of "data collection" (1)

craigminah (1885846) | about 2 years ago | (#42326809)

Seems bass-ackwards...the TSA should have done this study before deploying these scanners. Of course now they have a vast pool of data (e.g. victims) to study so maybe this was their (nefarious) plan in the first place.

Re:After years of "data collection" (1)

RichardBattista (2797773) | about 2 years ago | (#42327015)

Usually that's how studies work- you gather information before you implement something potentially harmful... but then again the TSA has never been one to care for public health too incredibly much.

Think of the dangers of plane rides (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326817)

"The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude"

So that 8 hr plane flight cause me to get 240 x-rays worth of radiation? Damn. Has anyone did a study on rates of cancer vs flight time? Do pilots get cancer more frequently than say farmers?

Re:Think of the dangers of plane rides (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42327117)

Average radiation exposure is much higher for pilots than the maximum allowed for nuclear plant workers.
Cancer rates are obviously not linear with dosage, and the level is none the less low enough that its unlikely to show an increase.
You can google, by yourself, for numerous studies.

That's a relief! (1)

aquabat (724032) | about 2 years ago | (#42326819)

It's about time that the full weight of the TSA's medical expertise was thrown behind this issue.

Re:That's a relief! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327141)

Indeed. I'll trust the TSA to determine the health effects of body scanners as soon as I trust the DEA to determine the crime impact of drug prohibition, the DHS to determine the foreign relations impact of bombing civilians, and the federal reserve to determine the rate of inflation.

scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (1, Interesting)

peter303 (12292) | about 2 years ago | (#42326853)

So a cell phone is 10,000 time more powerful. A TSA scan takes five seconds a few times a year. Many cellphone users have against their heads hours a day.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (1)

na1led (1030470) | about 2 years ago | (#42326921)

You get more Radiation from flying high altitude than almost anything else.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42326989)

cell = 0.0 uW/cm^2 of ionizing radiation.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (5, Informative)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 2 years ago | (#42327087)

Frequency matters. I can sit in front of my IR heat dish and dump watts/cm^2 into my body and get no effect other than pleasant warmth. When you start talking about ionizing radiation, that is individual photons that are energetic enough to knock electrons off atoms, you get effects that you'll never see simply by dumping energy into a volume.

I'm not bothering to look up what radiation these scanners use, merely pointing out that comparing watts is not what you want to be doing.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42327333)

I'm not bothering to look up what radiation these scanners use, merely pointing out that comparing watts is not what you want to be doing.

I'm no tinfoil hatter, and there's a lot more to safety than merely peak power, and there are serious differences in primary input power vs output power aka efficiency, but there's a pretty obvious argument where if you quote the giant machine thats wired to a wall socket 30 amp 440 3-phase ckt as being 4 orders of magnitude lower power than a cellphone that runs for days off a tiny little battery, something is wrong with the numbers beyond simple comparison of wattage.

Also uW/cm figures start approaching the radio-telescope and cosmic background radiation range, like someone accidentally gave you a noise level instead of a signal level figure. Unless you cheat and use lots of attenuators, its kinda hard to make an intentional radiator at that low of a level. A couple microwatts per cm equivalent is a pretty well tempest shielded faraday cage device, for example. I used to have access to a cage like that along with an array of spectrum analyzers, standardized antennas/horns, etc. I'm sure the cheapie dell I'm in front of here emits more interference than double digit uW per cm of surface, for example.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | about 2 years ago | (#42327153)

Some people fly ~weekly for our jobs, and that pilots and workers are subject to it multiple times a day....so, yea. We probably should do the same type of research on these that we did with cell phones. Due diligence and all that.

Re:scanner = 13 uW cm^2; cell = 100 mW cm^2 (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327579)

Are you aware that X-rays are different from radio waves?

A lethal dose of X-rays (10 Gy) contains less energy than a 1-second exposure to the Sun (assuming typical human weight and surface area). The wavelength matters.

This should not be an issue (5, Insightful)

cellocgw (617879) | about 2 years ago | (#42326887)

Forget whether or not there are scanners. The real issue is whether or not there should be a TSA at all. There's no evidence that the $BIGNUM dollars spent has done anything whatsoever to stop or dissuade terrorist in-flight attacks.
I'd suggest to the libertarians, Repubs, and other "personal liberty small government invisible hand of capitalism" folks that airline security should be the responsibility of the airlines themselves. I'd choose a "walk-on no problem" vendor over a "scan, remove your clothes, and provide a blood sample" vendor every time.

Re:This should not be an issue (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327377)

Detection systems in general have this as a common problem. It's very hard to quantify the effect that they're having on the problem they're trying to solve because the system is already in place. TSA could be deterring fifty attacks a year or none. Without a control set we really have no idea, and I don't think the public would be happy about permanently adding a few airports to a no-security list so that we can see how many terrorists take over planes from those airports. We'll never really know how effective TSA is, but the cost of terrorist attacks is so high that we'll continue funding TSA anyways.

Re:This should not be an issue (2)

pluther (647209) | about 2 years ago | (#42327813)

There are some ways of studying the effects.

For example, the FAA routinely tries to smuggle fake guns and bombs onto airplanes to see how many get through.

Last I heard, that number had not changed significantly since TSA was started.

One number that has gone up significantly since TSA took over is amount of theft from luggage and at baggage screening points. As I recall, laptop thefts went up over 1000% between 2000 - 2005.

But, major terrorist attacks - yeah, it's hard to measure changes in something that happens on the average once every twenty years.

Re:This should not be an issue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327999)

Your arguments require the assumption that there is no other way to provide security than this ridiculous detection system with known flaws.

Re:This should not be an issue (2)

mdielmann (514750) | about 2 years ago | (#42328063)

There are other options. Examine countries with similar foreign policies and dissimilar airport security policies, and see which has a greater rate of captured terrorists, and which has more terrorist attempts. Of course, there just aren't a lot of countries with similar policies to the US, but there are a few countries with a similar policy by the terrorists, a prime one being Israel. So, what does Israel do to get their rates with dealing with terrorism, and why doesn't the US follow that 40-year practice instead of constantly reacting to a single threat that evaded their system?

Prediction: (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#42326915)

Either the report will be completed, but in large part classified leading to conspiracy theories.
Or the report will say no hazard, but no-one is going to believe this because they do not trust the TSA to be truthful.

Re:Prediction: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42328011)

So have 3 different study organizations who are entirely unrelated to eachother or the TSA, possibly located in different countries to avoid bias (although that last part is likely not possible). Have an oversight committee watching over all steps of the review process for all three, with full transparency publishing the ongoing results of the studies as they happen to avoid any of them tossing out 'outliers' in the data at the end that should in all reality have been left in.

If all 3 find the same results, I'll believe it. Otherwise, a single group is just a single "gift" away from being worthless.

I mean shit, even mathematicians and scientists go through more rigorous independent tests to verify results for a new theorem! And guess what, it's *literally* physical impossible that a mathematical theorem can give me cancer, so why the fuck should the TSA get off easier than them?

strange side effect (2)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 2 years ago | (#42327045)

Maybe they'll even discover why everyone who steps into one gets a strong urge to punch the operator of it and most others within a 10 foot radius. It must be some kind of brain wave-interfering radiation, lol.

There is no completely safe lower limit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327075)

There is no completely safe lower limit of ionizing radiation. It's a risk benefit situation. I'm not sure that the risks here are outweighed by the risks.
I don't order CT scans unless I think that the benefits far outweigh the risks, and I don't think that one should have to deliberate exposure to ionizing radiation.

A physician in Iowa

Re:There is no completely safe lower limit (1)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#42327615)

There is no completely safe lower limit of ionizing radiation. It's a risk benefit situation.

Actually no, you need to talk to a telecom EE about signal to noise ratios or a statistician or a nuke industry guy about banana equivalent dose.

Depending on who's fishy numbers you use, the BED of a ctscan varies a heck of a lot but is probably around a quarter million bananas depending on your bananas and your scanner. You're wise from a dosage perspective to not ctscan people for fun, but its not a terrifying risk nor certain death, its merely about ten extra lifetimes of eating bananas, depending on how many bananas you eat, no big deal as long as you don't do it annually for a lifetime or something.

On the other hand natural background in an airliner at altitude is about a dozen bananas per hour. This is below the long term lower noise boundary for an occasional traveler, but starting to be a signal above the noise for a typical airline pilot. Your total average natural background, again depending on who's fishy numbers, is surprisingly high at about 2 BED per hour. This makes concern about "no such thing as a lower limit" dosages under 50 BED per day or under 20 kilobananas per year extremely fishy to even discuss.

Given a decent scintillation detector or an old fashioned geiger I can detect precisely one individual atomic decay. We live, naturally, in a sea of radiation that's immense orders of magnitudes higher than the minimum we can measure, with a remarkably high standard deviation, making "no lower bound" nonsense to discuss from a noise perspective.

Opt Out (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327135)

If one out of every 10 people just opted for a physical search they'd never be able to process everybody. I'd prefer to skip the groping but a few of us could bring the security checkpoint to a standstill.

How many terrorist have ... (1)

3seas (184403) | about 2 years ago | (#42327443)

... the TSA caught?

Good grief (1)

JasoninKS (1783390) | about 2 years ago | (#42327525)

We all know how this will turn out. They'll run a few tests with bubbling beakers and screens full of pretty graphs and come back with the magical answer of "The data is inconclusive so we'll keep using them."

Getting the core facts right... (1, Informative)

Shoten (260439) | about 2 years ago | (#42327543)

Okay, there are two kinds of body scanners. One uses backscatter x-rays, the other uses millimeter-wave radio waves. The ones deployed at airports are the latter, not the former; x-rays are not being used to scan people in airports in the United States. So let's recognize that what the TSA is doing here is evaluating a kind of scanner that they have not deployed . In other words, they're making sure it's safe before they use it. Backscatter x-ray scanners are more commonly used to examine vehicles; they produce a 2-d image rather than the 3-d representation you get from a millimeter wave scanner, so they aren't nearly as good at detecting hidden objects under clothing.

I hate the TSA at least as much as anyone else (I'm a frequent business traveler...so yeah...they are a huge pain in my ass between the security lines, the extra time needed, the restrictions on what I can carry, and the surly inspectors doing the "Uncle Touchy" routine), but facts are still facts, and in this case they haven't deployed first, tested later.

Ok, but you have the core facts wrong. (4, Informative)

Gordo_1 (256312) | about 2 years ago | (#42328107)

Up until a couple months ago, there were *both* backscatter X-Ray machines and millimeter wave machines in use in US airports. The backscatter X-Ray machines WERE NOT properly tested and WERE deployed FIRST. They're undoing that mistake now by removing the backscatter machines (at least from the airport checkpoints I frequent.)

I heard that the backscatter machines were being relegated to smaller airports, but I have no firsthand knowledge of that situation.

"Study" (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about 2 years ago | (#42327597)

I'm sure that after a "long and detailed study" they'll find that there are no adverse health effects from the scanners, no matter what the medical data says.

Hello Bias my old... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42327797)

...enemy.

Yes I am SURE the TSA investigating the TSA for wrongdoings will turn out fabulous.(for the TSA....durr)

For what it's worth (2)

Gordo_1 (256312) | about 2 years ago | (#42328033)

I travel every other week between LAX and SFO and both airports have removed the backscatter machines from security checkpoints I use. In addition to standard metal detectors, you will still find the older millimeter wave machines (the ones that give a simple red or green indicator) in some places.

It's nice not to have to go through the "opt out" groping routine on a regular basis any longer.

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