If you’re taking a plane this holiday season, you may have to walk through a full-body scanner that has caused a great deal of controversy. You may be wondering, “What’s the big deal?” and “Nobody cares about what I look like naked,” but that’s not really the issue. Sure, there are plenty of people out there who are mortified at the thought of some TSA agent leering at their naked body scan, but the problem is far more insidious than that. You see, these scanners use x-rays to do their job.
What you can’t see can hurt you. The full body scanners use ionizing radiation in the form of x-rays to bombard the skin and peel the clothes off of you in a hi-tech Superman approach. The problem is, Superman never gave cancer to people. According to Dr. David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, the dosage is 20% higher than estimated and because the x-rays only focus on the skin and aren’t dissipated throughout the body, the chance of getting cancer is greater. These x-rays can destroy or mutate DNA and cause skin cancer, most likely around the neck and head. Children are particularly susceptible to this and may, in fact, develop skin cancer when they’re adults many years later.
What’s more, if the system has a software bug or power issues, you could get an extremely high dosage of radiation in one spot, thus increasing the cancer-causing potential. Ironically, Dr. Brenner worked on the security scanner guidelines in 2002 as a consultant and wouldn’t have signed the report had he known that these scanners would be used in such a widespread fashion.
People who travel frequently, such as pilots, flight attendants and frequent flyers, may find the friendly skies not so friendly when irradiated several times a week. The constant exposure could severely affect the health of the people who work towards getting you to your destination safely.
Opting Out = Sexual Assault?
You can, of course, opt out of the full body scan, but what you end up with is an enhanced pat-down that some people consider equivalent to sexual assault. The enhanced pat-down is different than the standard pat-down, which includes feeling and prodding the genitalia and breasts. Many people have reported these pat downs to be intrusive, embarrassing and even aggressive.
Currently, there are many lawsuits filed through civil rights organizations including the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Other lawsuits are being filed by individuals.
Why Full Body Scanners?
The question remains why the US is even putting full body scanners in place when terrorists have gotten smarter? Terrorists are now surgically implanting bombs inside people and in body cavities. These bombs could be detected through bomb and weapons sniffing dogs and chemical based scanners as viable and less invasive alternatives.
At some point, people will have to decide what they are willing to sacrifice for relative safety in air travel. Is it worth the risk of cancer to be irradiated? Is it okay to have TSA agents grope children and grandmothers around their sexual organs in the name of safety? And are full body scanners really effective when a metal detector and a dog would more likely find the explosives or other weapons?
The balance between security and intrusiveness is one not easily defined. The full body scanner may indeed be used for years to come, but with some very serious and unintended consequences.
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