Anyone flying on November 24th this year should probably plan to get to the airport extra early: A group of travelers’-rights advocates are organizing a nationwide boycott of the full-body scanners used in security checks in airports. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving is usually the busiest travel day of the year, and an organized protests of TSA checks could cause some serious delays.
The concerns over the scans are two-fold. First, there’s an obvious breach of privacy with these scans. We were promised the images would never be saved and never seen by the public, but a recent Gizmodo investigation exposed that broken promise.
Second, there’s a sense of unease or at least uncertainty about the safety of these scanners. The Allied Pilots Association announced its members will boycott the scanners, citing health risks and it looks like the TSA will soon excuse pilots from the scrutiny.
Should the rest of us be concerned about going through these Backscatter X-ray machines?
Four UC San Francisco scientists think so. They sent a letter to resident’s Office of Science and Technology Policy expressing their concerns about the safety of the scanners. They say the scanners could be delivering dangerous amounts of radiation to travelers’ skin and that the effects of being scanned haven’t been properly tested. They recommend a review by an impartial panel of experts.
NPR reported that calculations by Arizona State physics professor Peter Rez suggest that a traveler would only have to go through the scanners 250 times a year to exceed the recommended annual dose of radiation, an order of magnitude less than what the TSA says is safe. Rez estimated the amount of radiation exposure based on what would be necessary to produce the kinds of images gathered by the TSA.
It seems to me that there are a lot of question marks floating around the safety of these scanners. I have one more to add: Why doesn’t the government perform thorough tests of these scanners, with real exposure conditions in mind, and either lay its citizens fear to rest or protect them from harmful exposure to a mutagen? I’m no radiation expert, but my guess would be that scientists and health experts are well-equipped to answer these questions (please comment below if you know something about this!).