TSA Body Scanner

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TSA Body Scanner

“TSA Naked Body Scanner Images found on the internet”; “Backscatter radiation is harmful especially in cumulative doses”; “Backscatter poses no health risks”.

The new TSA screening system is rolled out with promises made about privacy filters, limited retention of records, and whatever other statements are necessary to move it forward. It appears to be bull right out of the gate. Images posted on the Internet, the Indian movie star Khan having his naked image printed up and shared – all very disappointing. I know, it’s not the system; it’s just one or two untrained or poorly supervised bad actors. But aren’t failures of complex systems always like that? The system is fine; the people who run the system are the problem. That logic is faulty on its face, since there would be no system without the people. It is thesystem.

Complex technology or processes married with complex human control systems (bureaucracy) are prone to failure. Why? They are not tested and retested before deployment, and generally lack a credible feedback loop if failure or clues to impending failures appear.

Yet the discipline of deploying new technology demands testing and retesting in a variety of circumstances. But testing is such a bother… The government says the Backscatter device is safe, and the manufacturers say the Backscatter device is safe. Hardly an unbiased opinion. So if the Backscatter device has been tested, really tested, then ‐‐ where was the device tested? How was it tested? Who did the testing? Who funded the testing? Was the testing pushed until failures occurred? We looked for specific information – but did not find any. If any of our readers knows where it is, please forward a copy or link to us.

Absent specific studies, as the good little editors we are, we did a bit of research on submillimeter radiation. What we found is that there is not a coherent scientific conclusion that submillimeter is safe, but it is presumed to be safe based upon what is known. Conversely, there is a blanket medical community consensus that more radiation exposure is bad and less is better. The submillimeter radiation used in the body scanners appears not be harmful, and appears not to penetrate bodies of water, but can penetrate dry skin and some layers of fatty tissue. But we, as editors and frequent flyers, are still skeptical of the safety claim. Please read below what is lifted from the Wikipedia posting on submillimeter radiation / Backscatter.

The term typically applies to electromagnetic radiation with frequencies between

Highfrequency edge of the microwave band, 300 gigahertz (3×1011 Hz), and the longwave length edge of far infrared light, 3000 GHz (3×1012 Hz or 3 THz). In wavelengths, this range corresponds to 0.1 mm (or 100 μm) infrared to 1.0 mm microwave. The THz band straddles the region where electromagnetic physics can best be described by its wavelike characteristics (microwave) and its particlelike characteristics (infrared). Terahertz waves lie at the far end of the infrared band, just before the start of the microwave band.

The terahertz band, covering the wavelength range between 0.1 and 1 mm, is identical to the submillimeter wavelength band. However, typically, the term “terahertz” is used more often in marketing in relation to generation and detection with pulsed lasers, as in terahertz time domain spectroscopy, while the term “submillimeter” is used for generation and detection with microwave technology, such as harmonic multiplication.


The terahertz region is between the radio frequency region and the optical region generally associated with lasers. Both the IEEE RF safety standard [8] and the ANSI Laser safety standard [9] have limits into the terahertz region, but both safety limits are based on extrapolation. It is expected that effects on tissues are thermal in nature and, therefore, predictable by conventional thermal models. Research is underway to collect data to populate this region of the spectrum and validate safety limits.

In October 2009, a possible mechanism of DNA damage from terahertz radiation was proposed, according to which resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip doublestranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. However, the predicted DNA unzipping has not been verified experimentally and DNA bubbles have been reported to naturally occur due to temperature effects. Researchers claim.

The evidence that terahertz radiation damages biological systems is mixed. “Some studies reported significant genetic damage while others, although similar, showed none,” say Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in NewMexico…

So the mixed research has not resolved the issue of safety. It is simply deemed to be safe by the interested parties.

For security reasons I get why these devices are being deployed. Death mongering third world zealots want all of us to live in a world of their design. To influence us, the western world, to pull out, go away, devolve, convert, or whatever, they sell their points of view by causing terror events such as blowing things up with people in or near them. They have been successful a few times and, thankfully, failed many more times. They have tried the exploding shoe ‐ so now we take our shoes off. They tried binary liquid chemical (very scary stuff) ‐ so now it’s 3 ounces or less (more than enough, by the way). And let’s not forget the Christmas Crotch bomber ‐ who we can thank for the opportunity to be submillimeter radiated.

My intuition on new things is to avoid them. I have a wait and see attitude. I would feel much better if the scanners had gone through something similar to a testing procedure that a new medical device would go through, or an LD‐50 test used to test the toxicity of a substance. With the many decision makers caught between the complications of technology and the bureaucratic demands for immediate deployment, I can foresee small cumulative failures reinforcing one another into an unintended consequence. Homeland Security and TSA may be working well on this issue, but are they working wisely?

Just think of other technology marvels, such as Windows OS. Rushed into service version after version, without sufficient testing. What passes for quality with Windows OS are field installed program patches. Imagine if these Backscatter devices have the same percentage of issues requiring “patches”. It causes one to think of all of the imponderables, which always get resolved in the negative.

I am not concerned for the casual flyer. If there are unintended consequences, I am concerned for those most likely to bear the brunt of the of the radiation emitted by these devices. Think of the airport workers and the airline crews who don’t just go through them once a day, but often several times a day. I’m extremely concerned for the TSA employees who will be standing next to these devices that are going off all day long.

So the editors educated skeptical read on these devices, until educated otherwise, is if you are an occasional flyer, it’s probably not a health issue. A frequent flyer, someone who flies more than once per month, it may matter. For the Executive traveler, airport workers and airline crews ‐‐ you may want to consider a manual pat down and expect a few less than dignified moments.

For the TSA screener who will do the pat down, be kind to them and wear some cologne with a bikini or Speedo.

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