Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Does the state care about your health?

No - especially if it conflicts with the power grabs of the "security" state. Let me preface this post by stating that even if the scanners were 100% safe and benign, I would nonetheless oppose them on the aforementioned privacy grounds.

But, the question remains: has enough research been done to ensure that they are safe? Here I link to all of the relevant studies that have been published in the academic literature. I should also note that I am not the only scientist to have noticed the dearth of research in this area, although, sadly, other scientific organizations have set aside their adherence to the scientific method on this one.


Pubmed search terms: security scanner (28 hits), security millimeter (6 hits), security backscatter (12 hits)
These hits were not mutually exclusive and a large percentage were irrelevant, dealing with medical imaging, fingerprint scanning, or radiation of cargo. The relevant hits are:



Kinderkrankenschwester. 2010 Feb;29(2):47-50. German. PubMed PMID: 20196502.
[Since this is in German, I have been unable to track down the article.]

2006;121(4):429-37. Epub 2006 May 12. PubMed PMID: 16698967.
[This uses a dosemeter to measure the dose of radiation from different machines. No clinical data is included.]

3: Hallowell SF. Screening people for illicit substances: a survey of current portal technology. Talanta. 2001 May 10;54(3):447-58. PubMed PMID: 18968270. 
[This is a summary of all technologies. No clinical data.]
 
4: Hupe O, Ankerhold U. X-ray security scanners for personnel and vehicle control: dose quantities and dose values. Eur J Radiol. 2007 Aug;63(2):237-41.
Epub 2007 Jul 12. PubMed PMID: 17628378.
[This uses a dosemeter to measure the dose of radiation from different machines. No clinical data is included.]

Jul-Aug;93(4):210-4. PubMed PMID: 20957896.
[I don't have access to the full text. From the abstract, radiation dose is measured and there is no indication of clinical data.]

6: Vogel H. Search for persons. Eur J Radiol. 2007 Aug;63(2):220-6. Epub 2007 Jul
13. Review. PubMed PMID: 17630243.
[A variety of radiation methods are analyzed for their ability to find people stowed away in vehicles. The effects on human health are not investigated.]

7: Vogel H, Haller D, Laitenberger C, Heinemann A, PĆ¼schel K. [Detection of drug  transport using X-ray techniques]. Arch Kriminol. 2006 Jul-Aug;218(1-2):1-21.
Review. German. PubMed PMID: 16948257.
[I don't have access to the full text. From the abstract, radiation dose is measured and there is no indication of clinical data.]

As you will notice, almost all of this research is done by one person (H. Vogel). None of the research has any clinical data or discusses health consequences...they just compare dose from scanners to other exposures. This is outside of my expertise, so I don't know if what the UCSF researchers state is true - that the dose to volume ratio is important - but I am skeptical of the slam-dunk case that these things are safe. 

I cannot find a link at this moment, but I have read that one of the safety claims of the TSA is that this technology does not penetrate the skin. This is clearly a lie if you view the images in an earlier post where bones are clear as day in the parts of the body where there is little fat or muscle.

One of the articles above cited a report requested by the FAA and put out by the National Academies of Science in 1996. It is supposed to address health concerns, but I do not have the full text. However, reading the executive summary is very interesting given that this was years away from 9/11. As is typical for NAS publications, this is condescending to they lay public. Here are some choice quotes:
Passengers would probably resent the application of similarly tight security measures to domestic flights, unless authorities could prove that the level of threat was higher than usual...Because of the strong relationship between public acceptance and the perception of risk, the panel believes the FAA should make this link explicit in a strategy for implementing new passenger screening technologies.

The stowaway article says the following about a case of using radiation to detect people:
...in the State of Hessen, Germany, prison authorities planned to control outgoing laundry with transmission imaging. Cases with laundry had being recently used for escape by prisoners. The attempt was legally refuted because there was no law justifying exposing persons to X-rays in order to prevent evasion. The argument that only laundry would be exposed was not thought valid enough.