X-Ray Body Scanners Phasing Out From Major Airports
In a move described as a faster way of managing passenger checkpoints at the nation’s busier airports, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is shifting away from the “backscatter” X-ray scanners that were widely criticized for risking the health of passengers.
ProPublica reports the TSA is replacing the scanners with new machines known as millimeter-wave scanners, which rely on low-energy radio waves like those in cell phones. The new machines are now in place in airports in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, and New York.
Radiation experts claim the new scanners are safer than the backscatters, which produce a small dose of ionizing radiation that may cause cancer at high levels of exposure, according to ProPublica. Privacy advocates also complained the backscatter machines produced blurred images of passengers’ naked bodies for review by TSA officers.
With the millimeter-wave scanner, a cartoon image of a person’s body is displayed and threats are detected automatically by computer.
The TSA denies that the machines are being replaced due to privacy and health concerns. It says they are being moved to smaller airports due to processing and staffing needs. However, ProPublica notes that far fewer passengers use smaller airports – and thus fewer will be exposed to radiation from the backscatter machines.
As of today, the United States is among a handful of countries where airline passengers go through X-ray scanners at the airport. Most European countries have already phased out the backscatters owing to concerns of potential health hazards to passengers, reports ProPublica.