TSA agrees to outside study on health effects of body scanners

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been removing controversial “backscatter’’ body scanners from some of the nation’s largest airports, but it appears Sea-Tac will be stuck for a while with what looks like obsolete equipment.

The machines, purchased two years ago from Rapiscan Systems, use X-rays to detect explosives or other weapons hidden beneath clothes. Replacing them in many U.S. airports are millimeter-wave machines made by L-3 Communications that don’t emit X-rays and feature privacy software that produces a generic rather than real nude image of passengers’ bodies.

“At this time, there are no plans to swap out the backscatter scanners at Sea-Tac,” said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers.

Read more about why in my Travel Wise column for The Seattle Times

Seattle Port Commissioner John Creighton (@jwcreighton3) made a good point Monday in a tweet he posted urging the TSA to reconsider. "15M people/year go thru security @SeaTacAirport, its time we urge feds to replace scanners at SEA as well.''

Couldn't agree more. Meanwhile, there is a bit of good news for those concerned about the health effects of the backscatter body scanners that emit small doses of radiation. It appears that TSA is finally going to address the safety issue of body scans. The Transportation Security Administration has tapped the National Academy of Sciences to probe the health risks of body scanner radiation after years of pressure from civil liberties groups and Congress, reports Nextgov.The study is limited to radiation and safety testing, and will not examine the privacy implications of the X-ray machines, according to the report.

An academy committee will review the Homeland Security Department’s current procedures for measuring radiation doses people receive from the technology systems, along with previous studies, Nextgov reports. The website said that it's unclear whether the experts are expected to report on government tests or outside experiments. The Electronic Privacy Information Center has taken legal action to obtain DHS records on TSA safety analyses and third-party studies.

In meantime, if you’re concerned about either safety or privacy, don't hesitate to exercise your right to opt out of a body scan, and submit instead to a physical pat-down and walk through one of the old metal detectors still in place at Sea-Tac and other airports around the country.

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