Wednesday, October 14, 2009 11:42 AM cstanton

Controversy Over Naked X-Ray Images At Airports


As post 9/11 security has slowed up the process of getting through to the terminals, airports have been trying to make the process easier, faster, and with as little human contact as possible.

Manchester Airport has installed a machine at Terminal 2 that makes the "pat down" and the removal of clothing obsolete, but has not been able to quietly replace the age old method of airline security.


The machine, the Rapiscan Secure 1000, uses high energy x-rays and Compton Scattering to produce an image. When the beam hits anything organic, it "scatters back" towards the machine. It is very similar to the machine that the airline checks your luggage with, but now people are subjected to the same kind of search.

The machines captures "nude" images of the people that stand in the detection zone. This has caused quite a ruckus with people worried about their physical and electronic privacy.

Though Sarah Bennet, the head of customer service at Manchester Airport, assures us that "the images are not erotic or pornographic and can not be stored or captured in any way," many people still feel like they're being intruded upon. "Maybe if I was 18, slim and lovely, I'd take it, but its a bit too personal," said one passenger to BBC.


These images show the way that weapons and drugs are detected using the backscatter technology. 

Its easy to agree that they aren't pornographic, and unless the subject is feeling frisky its easy to say that they're not erotic, but there is no way that it would be impossible to capture or save the images taken by the machine since there are images that are taken by the machine on this page.

As to the safety of the machine, the radiation levels are extremely low. To put it in perspective, a CAT scan will put out 1,000,000 microRem and during a regular flight a passenger will be exposed to 500 microRem per hour. The Rapiscan Secure 1000 only emits 10 microRem per exam.

On June 4th, 2009, Congress approved a bill limiting the use of whole body imaging as the primary screening of aircraft passengers. The bill requires that passengers be notified about the use and operation of the technology and will be offered a traditional "pat down" instead of going through the scanner.

 In June of 2009 the Transportation Security Administration announced that backscatter x-rays would replace traditional metal detectors as a primary form of weapon detection. The Privacy Coalition wrote a letter stating that "the devices are designed to capture, record, and store detailed images of individuals undressed" and said that "If the public understood this, they would be outraged by the use of these devices by the US government on US citizens." They asked for suspension of the use of whole body imaging pending an investigation.

Aside from the embarrassment from having some operator that sits in a room with no windows, completely and totally separated from the machine, that the passenger never sees, the machine seems like it is a great alternative to the metal detector and "pat down." Its easier in the way that non-metal weapons can be detected on the person, intrusive "pat downs" are eliminated, and the passenger doesn't have to remove their shoes or their belt.

The option should remain open to keep things traditional, but the new technology will hopefully speed up the lines. 


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