Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


TSA Body Scanning is COMPLETELY SAFE… unless

Body scanners that the TSA is basically encouraging use of by threatening to otherwise grope, fondle, or molest you or your children are basically perfectly safe.  Well, unless you happen to be any one of the following:

  • a woman at risk to breast cancer
  • a pregnant woman
  • an immunocompromised individual (HIV and cancer patients)
  • a child
  • a teenager
  • a person over 65
  • a male person

If you fall into this unfortunate portion of the population (i.e., you’re not a healthy woman between 18-65 who is not pregnant or at risk for breast cancer), key scientific minds associated with the effects of X-Rays on humans seem to think you’re better off being violated physically than being violated in pictures.

8 comments on "TSA Body Scanning is COMPLETELY SAFE… unless"

  • LonerVamp says:

    I was wondering when children would get involved in this ridiculousness. Do you send them through nudie booths (my new term for body scanners)? Or do you grope them? (I can see the Googe search hits on this page getting colorful already!)

    It’s a bit personal, and I was not abused at all, but I will tell you that as a kid of about, I dunno, 2nd to 8th grade, being fondled would have been minorly traumatic for me. I can’t imagine how this feels for abuse survivors (or current victims!).

    And it’s not like TSA is hiring all the highly qualified, friendly people whom you would trust…like a doctor or nurse. These are low-paid people little better than the frisker at the door of a concert venue.

    I don’t fly much, but I truly entertain other options (train, driving) on the few occasions I do fly solely because of the TSA (not because of terrorists!).

    I wonder what celebrities and government officials do. If Britney Spears came by, would you be mildly amused by the body scan images? Maybe check to see if Ashton Kutcher really has a package worthy of scoring Demi Moore?

    It’s really just sick how badly the TSA attempts to solve certain problems. Fine, taking off shoes and having better bag scanning is acceptable. Fine, post more employees to deter the terrible terrorists who act nervous and get scared at the sight of a badge (deterrance). But if the problem is people taking over planes and using them as missiles, then for the love of god reinforce the cockpit doors, train pilots for incidents, give them a firearm, whatever needs to be done to maintain control of the aircraft. Losing a plane full of people is not a risk that can be realistically prevented any more than losing a bus or a train or a concert location… Treating every person like a criminal is not the way to promote freedom of living.

    • Mariner says:

      Well stated LonerVamp.
      “Losing a plane full of people is not a risk that can be realistically prevented any more than losing a bus or a train or a concert location… Treating every person like a criminal is not the way to promote freedom of living.”

      I’d like to see more transparent evaluation of safety enhancements for all TSA policies. (Is my 6oz yogurt container really more of a threat than if I divide it into two 3oz containers?)

  • Gweihir says:

    This sounds like complete BS to me. After all you are boarding an airplane and will be exposed to a considerable amount of radiation when at altitude. The numbers I found are about 1 mREM/day from background radiation (basically unavoidable). About 4 mREM for a cross country flight. The number I found for a full body scan is 0.005 mREM. This would make any fear of additional cancer risks from these scans entirely unfounded. If you assume a 10 second scan time, standing in these things a full day gives you still only 10% of your yearly base exposure. Which you cannot avoid. Stop spreading FUD. I do not like these scanners, but the radiation dose is not the problem.

  • alex says:


    From the letter that was linked in my blog post:

    “The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X- rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.”

  • LonerVamp says:

    Of course, upon futher ranting last night with a lady friend, I’d have to also include the TSA luggage inspection measures that happen behind closed doors by, my guess, glorified luggage-handlers. Oh, and the frequent missing of items, particularly women’s items…

  • physics-guy says:

    I think what is missing here is some basic physics.

    First, the concept of ionizing vs non-ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is the dangerous form. It is basically any radiation that has enough energy to strip electrons from atoms (which is called ionization), or electrons from molecules. This can have an effect on all the different chemicals/molecules found in biological cells. The worst case being DNA itself.

    Non-ionizing radiation on the other hand can only jostle molecules about a little, but not actually damage any. eg, microwaves which specifically jostle water molecules, and by definition of temperature, heat up the substance. Strictly speaking these don’t have the energy to break apart molecules, though if applied for long enough, the temperature can rise to a point which can break apart molecules.

    Now, which types of radiation are ionizing: alpha particles (helium nucleus’s), beta particles (electrons), gamma rays (all three of which are seen in radioactive decay), and any electromagnetic radiation above and including ultra-violet (eg, UV light, X-rays, and gamma-rays). Any electromagnetic radiation below ultra-violet (eg, visible light, infra-red, terahertz waves, microwaves, radio waves, etc) are all non-ionizing.

    And hence comparing these body scanners to x-rays is “miss-guided”. To my knowledge they use tera-hertz radiation, and not x-rays. If they used x-rays then their images would show metal objects and bones, and a very faint outline of the body shape (cf, your favourite broken leg x-ray). The tera-hertz radiation on the other hand passes through your clothing, but not your body. Basically, they strip you naked, without you having to physically take off any clothes. This makes it difficult if not impossible to hide stuff on your body, but beneath your clothes. And of course it is quicker than a strip search. But on the privacy side, it is pretty much on a par with a strip search :(.

  • physics-guy says:

    LOL. I asked wikipedia, and it is not so black and white!

    Some full body scanners do indeed use back-scatter x-rays….

    And even the terahertz scanners I was talking about _possibly_ have dangerous resonance effects.

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