Wednesday, November 16, 2011

EU Bans X-Ray Scanners

At least the EU is coming to its senses. Neither the millimeter wave (MMW) nor the backscatter x-ray devices have been independently tested and privacy concerns abound. The MMW scanners produce the same image but TSA has added a software overlay to hide the image shown to the public. The scanners had privacy software and were using it in Europe in 2009 but TSA spent an additional $42 million to install existing software that they could have been supplied originally at no cost. The privacy software is only available on the MMW ProVision units not on the more revealing Rapi-Scan x-ray units The Rapi-Scan units will continue to produce the naked image and potentially pose a cancer risk, particularly if malfunctioning and left in service.

The nude images will still be in the system and will remain susceptible to storage and reproduction. The EPIC lawsuit revealed that TSA had stored over two thousand these images and TSA admitted that was true but insisted that these were “volunteers”. Likely the passengers who used the scanners voluntarily during the testing phase in 2008 and 2009. Consequently there are thousands of passenger scan images stored in computers TSA without their consent.
When the scanners went into service in November TSA said the images were cartoonish and could be on the cover of Readers Digest. In August Denver TSA area director Pat Ahlstrom, said the scans " were graphic, no doubt about it," So the TSA story about these being "chalk outlines" was apparently an outright lie intended to pacify travelers and disguise the fact they were being digitally strip searched.

Privacy concerns aside, neither system has been demonstrated to be more effective than the metal detectors, which still are the predominant weapons detection used in airports. In most airports equipped with scanners, they are usually only used on 25% of passengers, the rest are sent to the walk through metal detectors (WTMD). After more than a year of in service testing, Germany decided against both systems because of the high number of false positives and detection failures, continuing to use the WTMD as the primary screening device.
When several Universities and a team of Radiologists expressed concern over the radiation exposure and lack of independent testing, TSA refused to allow third party testing and instead sent the manufacturers test data from 2008 to a University of California professor, Rebecca Smith-Bindman, whom they paid to “confirm” the flawed results. When errors in the original calculations by contract workers were revealed in March, TSA promised to perform new radiation testing on the scanners, none of which has been done to date
Even the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has challenged the validity of the TSA and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who participated in the original testing, disputed TSA’s claim that they deemed these safe. NIST indicated that operators could be harmed by prolonged exposure to x-ray radiation and recommended that anyone working near the scanners wear a dosimeter and be checked for radiation exposure. When AFGE asked that screeners be allowed to wear Union supplied dosimeters TSA refused to permit their use.
It is disturbing that a government agency would sacrifice passenger privacy and put their health at risk to protect private manufacturers’ profits. There is clearly an implication of corruption in the deployment of the scanners which bears further investigation by Congress.
Update: Link added. H/T to Negocios Loucos