back to article TSA to pull backscatter perv scanners from US airports

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has announced that it is pulling all full-body scanners based on backscatter X-ray technology from US airports. In a terse statement issued on Thursday, the agency said it had terminated its contract with Rapiscan, the maker of the controversial scanners, because the company …

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  1. scarshapedstar
    Pint

    Rapistscan, we barely knew ye.

    1. Eddy Ito

      Ah yes,

      but they knew us all too well.

    2. LarsG
      Meh

      For frequent flyers it

      Probably sterilises men with the X-rays and increases risk of testicular cancer and promotes and increases breast cancer in women.

      So to cover this up they are withdrawing the units. Every other excuse is jut a lie.

      1. Nigel 11
        Happy

        Re: For frequent flyers it

        All frequent flyers should note that the (cosmic and solar) radiation dose from hours at 40,000ft considerably exceeds the radiation dose from a scanner. So those who are paranoid about radiation shouldn't fly frequently, if at all. BTW airlines avoid flying too close to the Earth's magnetic poles, not because it screws up compass navigation (which they don't routinely use these days), but because the radiation levels are far higher there than elsewhere during a solar storm.

        The fact that aircrew don't have notably higher levels of illnesses that can be induced by radiation leads me to the conclusion that there is no significant risk to any passenger, even a frequent flyer.

        There's also some research that suggests that low ionising radiation doses may be *better* for one's health than *very* low doses. Our immune systems may be evolved to deal with radiation up to the upper reaches of naturally-occurring levels (for example life above a naturally radioactive granite bedrock). It's hard to actually prove, since the statistical signals are very weak.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      In the UK

      They will carry on with these until a Parlimentary Investigation in 2050 finds they have contributed to damaging the health of many people where it will be found that just one dose causes long term cell damage in children.

      Finally in 2070 compensation will be paid out to the scanner survivors trust.

      1. solidsoup

        These scanner should never have been installed

        If any of the security agencies in US and the West bothered to see how Israeli security services, who have decades of counter-terrorism experience, do it, - these scanner would've never been installed. Moreover, our security would look less like theater and more like an actual security. Of course that would also jeopardize kickbacks from multibillion dollar contracts.

        http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/744199---israelification-high-security-little-bother

        A few years back (but after 9/11) I flew with El Al and we got metal knifes and forks with our food! And no, that doesn't jeopardize security of the aircraft in any way if you think about it.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: These scanner should never have been installed

          If you pay a little closer attention, you will also note that Israel has very few sanctioned points of entry. With that in mind, it's easy to concentrate your security resources. The USA, OTOH, has numerous points of entry, many of which are very, VERY busy. To employ Israel's style of security on ALL those points of entry (to say nothing of the thousands of miles of coastline and open borders) would probably compare unfavorably with the US Defense budget (already bigger than the next 10-12 countries combined, including China).

          1. James Micallef Silver badge

            Re: These scanner should never have been installed

            @Charles9 - One of the main reasons for security theater combined with enormous queues in the US is that pols keep pressing for more to be done but not willing to give the funding. There would be no problem at all to have Ben-Gurion airport-style checks at every single US airport large enough to handle commercial passenger jets, IF the funding and trsining was sanctioned, and it would be just a drop from the Pentagon budget bucket.

            But the US seems to prefer to spend the money to provide SWAT teams and armoured personnel carriers to sleepy rural villages, and to develop weapons systems that are completely unnecessary because their current arsenal is already 10 times as big as that of the next biggest militaries (most of which are US allies anyway)

      2. MrXavia

        Re: In the UK @AC 07:51

        The UK doesn't used BackScatter, just the safe MM Wave tech, I recently checked incase they did before leaving, I certainly don't want a mandatory bath in X-Rays before boarding a plane to be bombarded by more ionising radiation!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: In the UK @AC 07:51

          no, no, you got it all wrong! ;) It's BackScatter that is safe. Or was claimed to be safe, when it was seen appropriate to make such assurances.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      But... but...

      What ever happened to the cavity searches...

      "The elbow length glove or the should length glove sir?"

      Damn I miss them.

      1. Wize

        Re: But... but...

        "What ever happened to the cavity searches..."

        The perv scanners still can't pick up on anyone hiding a stick of dynamite up their hoop.

        But then, neither option will pick up something akin to the Joker's "one phone call" in The Dark Knight.

  2. erikj

    It's the Health Issue

    >Privacy hasn't been the only concern over backscatter scanners. In December, the TSA reluctantly agreed to

    > conduct a new investigation into whether the technology might pose any health risks.

    Exactly. These machine were deployed during a panicked reaction, their safety was never fully understood, and since that time have been slowly withdrawn starting with the busiest (or well-connected) airports.

  3. mhoulden
    WTF?

    Deepak Chopra is CEO of OSI Systems? I suppose it's a change from writing New Age self help books.

    1. Steve Knox
      Facepalm

      Hey! That's my line!

      Missed it by that much.

      For those who missed it entirely: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepak_Chopra

    2. JeevesMkII
      Alien

      Presumably not /that/ Deepak Chopra...

      ... because his airport scanners would involve dousing rods and chanting.

    3. skeptical i
      Devil

      "Quantum healing" indeed.

      Although the leap from self-help silliness to security theater is not so vast as one might suppose.

  4. Frumious Bandersnatch

    wow!

    They really called those things rapey-scans? (that's how I'd pronounce it, anyhow).

    1. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Re: wow!

      Gah! Enough with the downvotes. I get it. I know, it's something I'll have to take up with my the- rapist.

      1. teebie

        Re: wow!

        I'm not certain that helped

  5. mIRCat
    Coat

    Sadly I think the endeavor cost the tax payers more than a few pints.

    Mines the one with the lead lining

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "As we continue that relationship, we look forward to continuing to provide leading-edge technologies and services to the TSA."

    Not that much leading edge or the contract wouldn't have been canceled.

    1. McBeese

      The problem isn't with the technology, it's with prudish Americans.

      1. Dana W
        Meh

        Us silly Americans, not wanting to get ogled in the nude by people who couldn't get picked to be real policemen.

        That's not prudishness, that's taste. I have no desire to be naked in front of anyone I wouldn't have in my car, certainly not a government clerk.

        1. Red Bren
          Joke

          Is the opposite also true?

          Does that mean you get naked for anyone that does get in your car?

          1. Eric Olson
            Joke

            Re: Is the opposite also true?

            You don't? That's common courtesy up here in the Midwest.

          2. Dana W
            Meh

            Re: Is the opposite also true?

            As I'm basically a nudist its pretty much my discretion.

            1. Red Bren
              Big Brother

              Re: Is the opposite also true?

              We're all nudists in front of the TSA. I wonder how they would react if we did try going through naked? Actually, I don't, it would end in a tasering.

        2. Danny 14 Silver badge
          Stop

          I fixed the problem last year by taking my children to disneyland Tokyo instead of florida. Was a much better experience I imagine. Flight was fantastic, no silly "special treatment" or double scanning queues (unlike the last time I visited usa) airport was a breeze and transfers polite. Even the budget hotel was good.

        3. LarsG
          Meh

          Apparently, according to a New York Post story, a number of large (body size) American Ladies have decided to start a class action against the use of Airport Scanners. They feel they have been discriminated against in that all the pretty and slim women are directed through the scanner, on occasion several times in succession for the benefit of the operators who claim spurious reading. The larger ladies are inevitable directed through the manual pat down.

          Airport security spokesman claimed 'Unfortunately with some of the larger ladies the X-ray is not able to penetrate under their skin folds'. He also denied claims that in one serious incident a larger lady got stuck passing through the scanner. He also denied it was policy that slim pretty women are made to pass through the scanner several times before being cleared though it did appear in some cases this may have inadvertently happened due to 'spurious readings'.

  7. Rampant Spaniel

    I hope our local airport keeps theirs. I know they are unpopular (and support them only being voluntary) but as long as they keep us safe (which includes not harming our health, which is currently being looked at) and speed up those ridiculous lines I am ok with them. They make a huge difference in wait times and the TSA bods at the scanners said they make it a lot easier to spot things.

    I would love to know once and for all about the possible health impacts and for them to remain optional. Unpopular views I know but damn I hate those huge lines. I absolutely love the new e-gates at some of the UK airports. 4-5 minutes to get through customs? I'll take that over 90 minutes at LAX. Throw in plenty of perv scanners and security might get to the same point. Flying might end up as less of a ballache!

    1. Steve Knox
      Trollface

      On the other side of the coin....

      If some of the health concerns are accurate, those scanners might actually be making flying more of a ballache...

      1. Rampant Spaniel

        Re: On the other side of the coin....

        I agree completely. I think we do need to figure out how valid any health concerns are and we need to ensure that there is no way they become mandatory (I am fully aware this could be the thin end of the wedge). People sure do hate them though!

        Flying 15 years ago was significantly easier, far more laid back. It would be nice to get some of that back!

    2. Mark 'Brain Fart' Berry
      Mushroom

      @Rampant Spaniel

      >>but as long as they keep us safe (which includes not harming our health, which is currently being looked at) and speed up those ridiculous lines I am ok with them. They make a huge difference in wait times<<

      Actually, all the new security makes you less safe. Just take one look at the queues at an airport, and think about what would happen if some suicide vest wearing bombers in theory 'sploded themselves into the arms of those mythical virgins waiting for them in heaven/hell(depends on your experience with virgins I guess).

      And remember, that's before they go through security.

      Real security still takes real humans, and we rely on minimum wage chimps most of the time.

    3. Equitas

      Enough of those scanners ......

      and you may have no functional balls to ache :-(

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I would love to know once and for all about the possible health impacts and for them to remain optional

      I have a sneaking suspicion the health impact *IS* known, it's just kept as data protected because t involves National Security. Once the scanners have gone it only takes a few years to then disavow any negative effects.

      It's a theory, of course, but given that safety tests have always been pooh-poohed I find the timing *interesting*.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Rampant Spaniel

      If it was millimetre wave and the ATR software had been used in the first place, no-one would've had a problem.

      Flight crews detest the scanners because they are already at risk of radiation due to the function of their jobs, so getting nuked by more for 'security' is a genuine concern. MMW scanners are safer.

      As for the rest of the public, it's the fact that the image was so high-res that you could practically see everything that people objected to. And yes, even if TSA claimed that there was no way an image could be saved/copied, cellphones have cameras these days, and that's all that needs saying. I saw a high-res scan of someone recently (who posted it themselves after having one done with the same kind of backscatter tech used by Rapidscan), and it is true that you can see virtually every wrinkle. I wouldn't want to be virtually undressed either. An outline as mandated for the ATR retrofit is more than sufficient to show where a potential threat may be located on a person's body. It's just common decency.

      That said, such scans, done with the correct technology and shown in a way that assists security as much as it addresses 'privacy' concerns, are welcome by anyone.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Rampant Spaniel,

      The TSA makes us less safe. At best, the TSA is reactive. The body scanners were put into place because of incidents that happened on international flights that were coming to the US. The TSA does not have any control in how the screening process is done. You are also have lowly paid people doing the job the security? Search Google and see that some of these people in charge of our safety have been charged with criminal acts. They have released those images from the scanners, etc. Why should *we* trust them? They have not earned our trust but have earned our distrust.

      The real method of security, they need to do more behind the scenes and not out front. I have over 1 million traveled miles, so if they want to speed the queues up, then they need to learn how to trust seasoned travelers. If I were going to do something, wouldn't that have already occurred? Do they really think that a terrorist group would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on tickets (which they need to travel on as well) and spends years doing it to perform a terrorist act? That is a longterm process and it would be far easier for them to buy a TSA agent off or some other airport employee. If it comes to sneaking something in like a liquid, gel or a somewhat solid, well that can be done by following the TSA guidelines. The TSA gives the illusion of security without actually providing any of it.

      The fact is, the TSA has never actually caught a terrorist. Actually they have, it was when they caught one of their own in a criminal act.

      1. EvilGav 1
        FAIL

        You should probably fact check that.

        9/11 was caused by flights originating in the USA, it's one of the reasons the planes still had so much fuel aboard when they hit. If those planes had started their flights outside the USA, they would have had very little fuel left.

    7. Malcolm Weir

      The future is NOW

      Dear heavens, Senor Spaniel seems to be missing wide swathes of the point!

      A) The X-Ray scanners are banned in the EU because of health concerns, which are echoed/instigated by American cancer doctors.

      B) If your airport has an X-Ray scanner, it won't keep it, for the reasons mentioned throughout the article.

      C) Not all scanners use X-Rays. If it says "L-3" in large letters, it doesn't, and will stay. If it looks like two blue boxes, and says "Rapiscan", it does, and will go, being REPLACED by the L-3 version.

      D) The scanners are the cause of the lines, not the solution to it, and the only "optional" aspect of them is whether you opt-out and undergo longer manual grope-searches.

      E) If you want something less that 90 minutes at LAX, join Global Entry. It gets you through customs & Immigration in your 4-5 minutes at every US airport.

      F) Having joined Global Entry, if you travel enough you may qualify for TSA's Pre-Check program, which gets you through security like it's 1999 again (keep your shoes on, computer in the bag, etc.).

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Security Theater

      I hope our local airport keeps theirs. I know they are unpopular (and support them only being voluntary) but as long as they keep us safe

      They dont. That is the fundamental problem. All that cost (money, effort, resources, health) for no benefit.

      My magic anti-terrorist rock keeps you just as safe as the scanners and it costs you nothing, doesnt risk your health and doesnt allow strangers to peer underneath your clothes.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Security Theater

        but you can't take that rock on board with you, due to its sharp edges. The box to dispose of lucky rocks with sharp edges is past the box with lucky rocks deemed to be heavy enough to wreck the engine, which you might insert into the above engine while strolling across 3 miles of tarmac to board your easyjet flight, Sir.

    9. teebie

      Poe's law?

  8. Herby

    Now the next step:

    Get rid of the silly TSA. After all it is only security theater. Expensive security theater at that!

  9. jake Silver badge

    All I can say is ...

    I'm glad I haven't had to fly outside the range of my personal aircraft since the advent to the TSA's federally mandated molestation stations. That shit is completely ridiculous, not necessary, unneeded, and a waste of tax-payers money. As is the entire concept of the completely daft "department of homeland security" boondoggle.

    "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither safety nor liberty." --Ben Franklin

    1. Simon2
      Big Brother

      Re: All I can say is ...

      Exactly!! I flew to New York last year with parents to visit family i hadn't seen for years so this was my first experience of the TSA.

      We had to wait at least an hour in a long queue and once we eventually got to the desk, we had our finger prints and our eyes scanned and were asked loads of silly questions.

      Its completely unnecessary and totally ridiculous. Upon arriving back in the UK, all it took was 2 minutes waiting in a short queue and a quick scan of my passport and that was it.

      Also why do they have to have stupidly long names for gov' departments, just call the TSA "Border Control" or "US Border" and call Department of Homeland Security simply the "Home Office" like we do in the UK.

      1. Malcolm Weir

        Re: All I can say is ...

        Dude, the TSA is not the same as CBP (Customs and Border Protection), which is not to be confused with ICE (Immingrayion and Customs Enforcement). Still, glad you're so happy with the UK names, because otherwise you'd have difficulty with the government departments handling other countries: in the US, it's the State Department, in the UK the oh-so-snappy Foreign and Commonwealth Office...

  10. frank ly

    Try a new recruitment strategy

    "It seems that when TSA screeners are shown finely rendered images of air passengers' nude bodies, rather than simple outlines, they tend to linger on each image, which slows the lines down."

    If they recruited scanner operators who have been active members of a nudist/naturist club for at least a year, or perhaps retired porn actors/actresses, then the operators wouldn't be fascinated by the sight of naked bodies.

    1. Jimbo 6

      Re: Try a new recruitment strategy

      ...but now (judging by the example ATR images), their HR department will just need to sift out all the job applications from Fru T. Bunn, Master Baker ("Uh ! Uh ! Uh ! You gingerbread slut !")

  11. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  12. bag o' spanners
    Black Helicopters

    Homeland Insecurity is necessary to maintain the stock price of the Parallax Corporation.

    Given the current issues with the Dreamliner, I'd be more worried about Boeing putting a time bomb under my seat.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Either that or someone with an old Dell laptop. Must be the same supplier ..

  13. Shades
    Black Helicopters

    Place your bets...

    Call me cynical but I see this as a point where something, somewhere just may coincidentally "happen" to a plane and these things will be back with a vengeance... without any opposition.

    1. Steven Roper
      Thumb Up

      Re: Place your bets...

      I'll see your bet, and raise you one "When something does 'coincidentally happen' to a plane, and someone posts evidence it was a psyop job to sway public opinion to want these things back with a vengeance - they'll be dismissed as a crazy tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy nut."

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Place your bets...

      If I read it correctly, they are replacing X-RAY scanners with MMW scanners, which are non-ionising, I.E. don't fry your DNA... Where as these ones cause mutations EVERY time you use them, and that is fact (hopefully the mutations are minor as as most)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Mutations?

        Where as these ones cause mutations EVERY time you use them, and that is fact

        That *may* actually explain a lot about the US.

        It's life, Jim, but not as we know it..

  14. oopsie

    Why do these have operators?

    So, the new machines put a splodge over a picture of a person if there's something suspicious. If there's no splodge, i assume the person is free to go? In which case (assuming that the sensors don't have a horrific rate of false positives) shouldn't you only need a few people for a bunch of scanners?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Why do these have operators?

      Presumably there is a horrendous rate of false positives.

      It's certainly pretty high going by my experience of the mm-wave version with this "vague outline" software.

      According to several researchers, the false negatives rate is also very high for X-ray backscatter.

      I've not read any studies recently on mm-wave as implemented, and would guess that there hasn't actually been any - bad for the TSA business.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I came, I saw,

    I got terminated.

  16. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I'm surprised

    they found anyone in the TSA with enough brains to find the 'on' switch

    Boris

    <<<still sulking after having the straps cut on his backpack to open and inspect it... despite the straps having handy 'press here to open' clips next to where they cut the straps.

  17. johnnymotel
    Coat

    I'm surprised no-one has thought of taping silver foil letters saying "FUCK YOU" on their chest before going through.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      I rather suspect that lots of people have thought about it - then a few milliseconds later dismissed the idea as asking for BIG trouble.

    2. Uffish
      Big Brother

      F.U.

      Everyone has thought of it - most, fortunately for them, have reluctantly abandoned the idea.

      1. mhoulden

        Re: F.U.

        Even XKCD got in on the act.

        As Dara O'Briain once said, if flying means you have to show your genitals to a stranger behind a screen, it's probably safe to say the terrorists have won.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      OK, so you want to upset people who have basically no real higher authority, who can do practically anything they want in the name of what THEY term "security"?

      There are 2 things that can happen: either they stop you from boarding or you'll get the rubber glove treatment, but with insufficient lubricant.

      NOT a wise move, but let me know when you try so I can sell tickets.

  18. mistergrantham

    meh

    I always go for the free massage anyways, puts a smile on my face every time, especially when they kneel to do the trousers...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: meh

      Make a point of not showering before taking any flight now.

  19. 404

    Back when...

    ... TSA was created, I considered getting in on the ground floor because I knew it would expand like a pyramid scheme, with those in the agency at the beginning benefiting the most from the expansion of it's responsibilities. That was from a purely mercenary outlook

    However, rather than selling my soul to become some creepy version of a mall cop with weapons and the power of the Feds behind you, I started my own business instead.

    ;)

  20. G.Y.

    Mike

    These machines should be called "mikes", to commemorate Michael Chertoff (of Katrina fame) who lobbied for them,

    1. PT

      Re: Mike

      No, the Katrina guy was the other Mike, Michael "heck of a job Brownie" Brown. Michael Chertoff was the guy in charge of the Department of Homeland Security, who left public service to set up lobbying group Chertoff Associates in order to continue, er, servicing the public.

      If I recall correctly, the naked scanner project resulted from that incident where some halfwit with underpants full of fake explosive, but no passport or boarding pass, was assisted onto a US-bound plane by what appeared to witnesses to be an official with authority over the flight security personnel. Hmmm. Strange that we never found out who he was.

      1. G.Y.

        Re: Mike

        The little Mike (Brown) reported to the big Mike (Chertoff); they can share the glory for Katrina between them.

  21. Version 1.0 Silver badge
    Happy

    Tough Sh*t Ars****es

    I fly a lot and I'd guess that 50% of the time I go through the backscatter machines they pick up something on my right knee ... but there's never anything there except my knee.

    But what they miss every single time is that I have my hands placed flat against the ceiling of the scanner where the machine can't see anything in my hands. I'm over 1.8 m tall and the machines seem to be made for much shorter, obese people.

    The fact is ... this is all just security theater - anyone willing to put up with a minor amount of discomfort could walk any number of weapons or explosives through any of these checkpoints that rely on backscatter detection simply be stuffing it up ... well I'll leave the rest to your imagination. TSA security is nothing more than a CYA move by the politicians and a major subsidy to the fat cats in the Military Industrial complex.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the USA late as usual, the UK switched to only MM wave with the privacy software quite a while ago...

    I wonder if this is more due to the radiation risk than privacy... I know I would have refused to be backscattered with x-rays....

    1. Malcolm Weir

      Yeah, it's EU policy on the health risks. The X-Rays are a risk, so the EU outlawed them. In the US, if some Wise Men conclude that, yes, there is a risk that the X-Ray dosage could have adverse side effects (especially to the operators), then obviously the impacted people would, in true American fashion, sue the government for amounts similar to the dept of Greece.

      But if it is determined that, for completely unrelated reasons, that the machines are unsatisfactory, then obviously the manufacturer will remove them and no further investigation into health effects is needed, so no lawsuits will get filed.

      And maybe Rapiscan gets a nice contract to do something less controversial, like X-Raying luggage.

  23. Arc_Light
    WTF?

    The sad thing is...

    ...that the folks who should have been more worried than the passengers about the backscatter units - possibly even more worried than the flight crew - were the TSA employees themselves Don't get me wrong, the policies they are made to follow are ludicrous and their attitude can too often leave something to be desired. At the same time, in spite of the fact that it is indeed security theatre and a huge waste of taxpayers' money, I have nevertheless come across TSA personnel who were polite, respectful, and made the best of a stupid situation. Even that weren't the case, though, that doesn't mean it's OK to require anyone to work for hours and hours and hours right next to full-body x-ray scanners with man-sized opening on both sides and without even the most basic of dosimetry equipment - seriously, WTF??

    Full disclosure - I am a boffin. I have worked with research equipment generating potentially dangerous amounts of x-rays for over a decade. The only reason I don't wear a badge when operating the unit I run the most these days is because it's fully enclosed, shielded, and as close to idiot-proof as you can get - you would have to be trying to get an exposure (and understand exactly where the multiple safety interlocks are and how to disable them) for anything bad to happen - that, or literally start destroying the shielding with power tools and a blowtorch. That said, I didn't take anyone's word for that, not even my own, and not even after I was done helping assemble the thing - we did a radiation survey, one that gets repeated on a regular basis.

    Across the hall, there's another lab with x-ray equipment that is open - and you better believe they have dosimetry badges. For that matter, only the elder boffin who cobbled the equipment together from bits and pieces of other units gets to use it, and that thing still makes me nervous when I see the big red "X-RAY ON" light lit. Every institution I've worked at, you see dosimetry equipment, there are regular surveys, things are shielded and people's exposures are monitored. When you go for a radiological procedure at a hospital or doctor's office, you're always given shielding and the tech always steps being a shield as well, at which point they apply exactly the dose they mean to apply - no mystery about the amount of radiation.

    Now, let's go back to the airport. Not once did I ever submit to the backscatter units. I remember one time a pretty reasonable TSA officer was doing the pat-down (which, in my view, was at least as embarrassing for him), and as he was working, I explained to him that I worked with x-rays professionally and that I had concerns about the safety of these units (some skin cancer in my family, the backscatter dose is concentrated in the skin so this idea that "the dose is insignificant" is bullsh*t - only true if you distribute it over the entire body, at which point they should be seeing my skeleton in their scanners). I then indicated that, in my view, he should be at least as worried, given that he's with the thing all day, and asked if they gave him anything to check his dose. "No," was his reply, and my shock and incredulity got him pretty quiet, I have to say. I told him I thought they should really do something about that to make sure he and his colleagues were safe, and wished him luck. I think I scared him a bit, and with good reason - I would not want to be in that position.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they've shown that the radiation leakage from a brand new, fully functional machine isn't much. How long does that unit stay brand new and fully functional in an airport environment, when operated by people without the foggiest idea of how it works and with very little concern for its well-being? How would these folks ever know if the thing started leaking harmful amounts of x-rays if there's not even a film badge around that gets sent for monthly analysis? I can't believe that's even legal. The TSA agents themselves should've been the loudest voices against this next to the pilots and flight crew. Nowhere else on the planet will you see x-ray generating equipment handle so stupidly. Why not get the fluoroscopes back out to look for shoe bombers, while we're at it...

    Bottom line, X-rays are not to be trifled with, or projected about with wild abandon. You use them when you have a good reason, and when lower frequency radiation just won't do. At this rate, I get the feeling that the only reason we've not seen neutron backscatter (or better yet neutron activation) on passengers is due to difficulties in finding sufficiently portable neutron sources. In any event, I am happy to hear that we are getting back to the business of simply microwaving passengers instead.

    Arc_Light

    1. Malcolm Weir

      Re: The sad thing is...

      Arc Light,

      You'd have thought the TSA employee's union would ask the relevant questions (which may have satisfactory answers), wouldn't you?

      Oh, wait, the Republicans legislated against the TSA staff being permitted to unionize at all...

      1. Arc_Light

        Re: The sad thing is...

        Malcolm,

        Sad but true :( While I've seen both the ups and downs of unions, it's clear that these folks needed a voice. I presume said politicians used an argument similar to the one Reagan applied to air traffic controllers to justify such a move... Well, since they're getting rid of these devices anyway, the only fitting thing to do would be to install them in the offices of the congressmen responsible for this - just as a precaution, of course.

        Arc_Light

    2. cortland
      Coat

      Re: The sad thing is...

      Remember the Therac 25? To be fair, though,that was *intended* to deliver ionizing radiation; if only they'd paid better attention to interlocks and time/dose limiting; A Safety classic.

      What has got the TSA in a mess isn't SAR at mm wavelenghts, but our puritanical attitude about the human body. I'm not all that modest; myself, but should I transgress, people are likely to tell me "For gods sake cover up; you look disgusting."

      No Sumo please; the uniform shows things best left unrevealed.. Where's my coat?

      1. Arc_Light
        Thumb Up

        Re: The sad thing is...

        Hi cortland,

        You've hit the nail on the head. The units I use run software that, depending on your hardware configuration, could control the x-ray generator as well. That always made me quite nervous, because in my experience the software is notoriously buggy and prone to crash at random on occasion. For us it isn't a safety issue because our units are properly shielded and hardware-interlocked (as opposed to the Therac 25 and Rapiscan systems), meaning my biggest worry is blowing out an x-ray tube (or worse, melting the tube tower) and running up some serious repair / replacement bills - but that's still very bad for us here, so I am very happy to inform those I train that the one and only thing that controls the generator is the illuminated panel with the pretty buttons and knobs on it - nothing else. There are literally no connections between the data collection and x-ray generation systems, so the computer could explode and (barring shrapnel damage) the generator wouldn't skip a beat - and much better this way. This gets to the definition of the word "failsafe" - when a critical system fails, it must do so gracefully. Sloppy code may be overlooked on trifling matters like office suites and operating systems, but if you're going to write code of the sort that results in major damage, injury or death when it doesn't run correctly, there is no "try". If that's not comfortable, admit you're human and throw in a few well-designed hardware interlocks to be sure; end of story.

        As to why people were up in arms in the first place, indeed, this is a rather sad comment on where we are. It's not the fact of being microwaved / x-rayed for no good reason that upsets most folks, it's that "they can see me nekkid, ZOMG!!!". Yes, I agree, it's an invasion of privacy that we shouldn't have to tolerate (though I feel sorry for anyone who gets aroused by the grayscale topographic maps these things produce) - but that could describe so many things the government does, especially in airports, and neglects the fact that there are more important things wrong here. In particular, it A.) doesn't accomplish its stated purpose of making us safer and B.) represents a health hazard for TSA agents, flight crew and passengers (unjustifiably so because of A).

        PS - For the record, while x-rays are right out, I don't mind being microwaved a bit - my feet get cold followed the government mandated de-shoeing (it's like de-planing, look it up), so to be honest I would welcome the ability to up the podiatric dose in particular. I do mind the fact that it's a pointless, distracting and burdensome exercise that tax dollars are being spent to perpetuate, however. I've done my fair share of travel, and as a prior poster said, the Israelis do it right; why we refuse to learn from them is beyond me.

        PPS - OK, no it isn't. There's good money to be made in security theatre. It does, nevertheless, piss me off.

        Arc_Light

  24. Eguro
    Paris Hilton

    So...

    Where can I get it on the action of getting $2.7m for failing to fulfill a contract?

    I get that they have spent a lot of money trying to fulfill the contract, but if they haven't, why are they paid anything?

  25. Jason Hindle Silver badge

    ATR is already in use at Manchester Airport and they actually let you see the scan of you. They seem to be prone to showing random blocky bits, outside of the body.

  26. cortland

    Your papers, sir.

    These may come in handy on street corners to randomly screen passersby for firearms.

    It might help.

  27. Dana W
    Meh

    I once got in hot water with them when they found a 9mm round in my pocket. It had gotten left in after a trip to the range and forgotten when I cleaned my pockets out, I had to explain several times it was my SHOOTING JACKET "a cammo US field jacket", and they finally let me go, after a half hour of terse explaining. It was still an unpleasant experience........

  28. The Alpha Klutz
    Thumb Up

    how's it going 2000 man?

    welcome back to solid ground my friend.

    I heard all your controls were jammed.

  29. Dan Paul
    Devil

    There is no such thing as "Security"!

    No matter what any "Feel Good" Politicians may say, there is no such thing as security. Everything you see at the airpots and elswhere is there for the sole purpose of making passengers feel safe not to actually make them "safer".

    There is no inspection method that can stop the concerted efforts of a dedicated group of terrorists because they will find a way to circumvent almost any security measures that can be put in place.

    In almost all cases, searches pick up minor items that really have little to no impact on safety. Even people that had left guns in their luggage were not any actual safety risk because they were found to be just absent minded, not actual terrorists.

    Apart from the failed underwear Bomber, I can't think of one that really had any potential here in the USA after 911. And they only caught him because he was trying to light the damn thing while in the cabin.

    Using the profiling method of the Israeli's would garner better results of people who could be considered suspicious.

    To my understanding, all domestic and international carry on and checked luggage already gets xray/MM Wave screening as well as swab testing for explosives. I hope the check the airfreight and captains and diplomatic bags the same way but nothing is ever said about those.

    What more can you do?

    Searching plump Grandma's and toddlers just doesn't get the job done. Swarthy looking fellows and their associates, coming from overseas and Mexico or Canada need MUCH deeper examination.

    The one's I am really worried about did not fly here, they came across the border illegally by car, boat or by foot.

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