Full body scanners no threat to health but privacy still an issue

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Advertisement

Full body scanners at airports have raised concerns about health risks from radiation exposure, as well as concerns about privacy among air travelers. Scanners that are now in use in the UK utilize either radio wave systems or low intensity x rays to generate an image that some individuals call a privacy infringement akin to a strip search - but done virtually. The scanners pose no health risks and refusal to submit could lead to even more cumbersome and obstrusive security measures.

Professor Mahadevappa Mahesh from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine explains that the dose of radiation from full body scanners is so low an individual would have to have 1000 to 2000 low intensity x-ray scans (from millimetre radio wave systems) to equal the amount of radiation from a chest x-ray and 2500 to 3000 radio wave system scans (from backscatter systems) before receiving the annual recommended safe dose of radiation established by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Advertisement

Privacy issues still raise concern for passengers who feel full body scanners infringe on privacy. To combat concerns about "virtual strip searchers' resulting from airport scanners, Mahesh suggests that viewing of images could be performed away from the scanning area. He also says the images should not be saved.

Failure to submit to a full body scan should they become mandatory might lead to even more obtrusive technology and full pat downs that could be even more cumbersome, warns Mahesh.

Dr. Mahesh, Chief Physicist and Associate Professor of Radiology, Russell H Morgan Department of Radiology and Radiological Science, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA, says backscatter systems are safe for infants, children, pregnant women and individuals with radiation sensitivity. The only caveat is adequate safety training to ensure the technicians are well trained in maintaining and safe use of full body scanners that don't necessarily have to infringe on privacy.

BMJ

Advertisement