5 Reasons Body Scanners May Not Solve Our Terrorism Problem

By Brett Israel | January 6, 2010 3:48 pm

tsa-release-images-400-webIt’s a classic case of bolting the barn door after the horses are gone. Politicians are angry that the “crotch bomber” (who tried to blow up an airplane of Christmas day) got through airport security with his explosives undetected, and have demanded that full-body scanners be placed in all airports. So far, 19 U.S. airports are using the scanners, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) hopes to put hundreds more in airports across the country.

Proponents of this technology argue that it’s worth sacrificing privacy (and modesty) for safety. But in their rush to do something policymakers be ignoring five big problems with rolling out this technology:

1. Manufacturers aren’t willing to fill orders. According to a spokesperson for Smiths Detection, a manufacturer of millimeter-wave body scanners, the scanner technology has not yet been certified as fit for purpose by national governments – and manufacturers will not invest in mass production until it has [New Scientist]. Until the TSA and the European Union certify the technology, don’t expect manufactures to rush into production, seeing as how the scanners cost around $125,000 each.

2. They won’t actually catch that many threats. According to a spokesperson for QinetiQ, another body scanner manufacturer, airport body scanners would be “unlikely” to detect many of the explosive devices used by terrorist groups [BBC News]. QinetiQ said the technology probably wouldn’t have detected the Christmas day underwear bomb. Neither would the scanners have caught the explosives from the 2006 airliner liquid bomb plot, nor the explosives used in the 2005 London Tube train bombing. The body scanners aren’t very useful for detecting liquids and plastics and can only help spotlight irregularities under a person’s clothes, said the spokesperson. Singling out every irregularity for further screening will place a heavy burden on airport security (read: bring a pillow with you to the airport).

3. The scanners may violate child pornography laws. A trial run of the scanners in Britain was only allowed to proceed after children under 18 were exempt from screening.  The decision followed a warning from Terri Dowty, of Action for Rights of Children, that the scanners could breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, under which it is illegal to create an indecent image or a “pseudo-image” of a child [Guardian]. It’s not clear if children would continue to be exempt from screening should the scanners become widely used, or where the United States stands on screening children. (And then there’s other types of pornography to worry about–imagine the media frenzy that would ensue should a celebrity body scan make its way to the tabloids. The images are not supposed to be stored after their creation, but many critics say the security personnel analyzing the images are poorly monitored to ensure the scans are disposed properly.)

4. Other countries won’t use them. A year ago, Germany said “nein” to the idea of using full body scanners in its airports, saying the technology is little more than security theater. There is some indication that the German government has recently softened its stance, but its new position has a lot of “ifs.” German Interior Minister Thomas de Mazière said he is ready to introduce full body scanners if they are safe and “fully guarantee” the privacy rights of passengers. Wolfgang Bosbach, Bundestag interior committee chief, told Germany’s Tagesspiegel: “If this technology [full body scanners] has demonstrated its usefulness in practice, i.e. it works reliably and is quick, we should use it” [Christian Science Monitor]. See reasons 2 and 3 above.

5. Full body scanners can’t see inside your body. Generally, the machines can’t find items stashed in a body cavity. So the scanners wouldn’t stop at least one common smuggling method used by drug traffickers [New York Daily News]. It’s not hard to imagine terrorists following in drug smugglers’ footsteps–in fact, one already has. In September, an Al Qaeda suicide bomber hid explosives in his rectum in an attempt to kill a Saudi Prince (but because the bomber’s flesh absorbed most of the blast, he died and the prince survived).

The bottom line? Playing catch-up with evildoers probably won’t do much good, which is essentially what the TSA is doing with its embrace of full body scanning technology–along with its current rules about liquids and removing one’s shoes, for that matter.

Related Content:
80beats: Editing Goof Puts TSA Airport Screening Secrets on the Web
80beats: Are Digital Strip Searches Coming Soon To Every Airport Near You?
80beats: TSA Threatens Bloggers Who Published Security Info, Then Backs Off

Image: TSA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Feature, Technology
  • Palin in oh12!

    How are we supposed to have a healthy terrorism industrial complex if we can’t even fill orders for body scanners in our airports? The high cost, and misunderstood technology associated with scanners make them ideally suited to our war on Terror. Don’t even get me started on the upgrade opportunities we’ll miss if we don’t buy more scanners now.

  • Major Variola (ret)

    Bottom line: folks in glass empires shouldn’t throw stones or fly drones.

    Close the mil bases and foreign interventions. Or die in the sky, now and then.

  • rabidmob

    I bet you feel really clever writing that.

    Appeasement never worked and it never will.

    If you give a human a cookie or if he thinks you have a cookie he’s gonna want to bomb you in your home.

    The political motivations of those that fund terrorism are far from pure and are definitely no mystery to those with an open mind.

    The current conflict will not end until people learn tolerance or until armageddon.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    Thanks for bringing some sense to this discussion. I <3 you guys.

    and, uh, @rabidmob, your straw-man argument doesn't really hold much water. Just thought you should know.

  • rabidmob

    Your lack of argument holds no water, just thought you should know.

    So to conclude any thoughts of a straw-man argument, I will restate my position.

    We are not a glass empire.

  • Bob

    Rabidmob, are the airport scanners bringing tolerance or armageddon then? This article proves that they won’t work against someone who is smart enough to get past them and your comments don’t relate to that.

    We are not a glass empire yet, but trying to extend ourselves too far beyond our means could lead to that. The department of defense is too often not delivering enough result for the price americans pay in terms of loss of life, privacy, and money.

  • I heart Haliburten

    Can I get a chip in me, so I can just whisk thru the airport scanner, tollbooths and McDonalds?

    Imagine the day when we all have chips in us! Our whole life can be tracked for our convenience. Cameras will be on every corner for our safety and security. Constant monitering, thats what I call freedom!

  • Lucian

    It’s silly that western countries aren’t following the example Israel, which have non-intrusive techniques that have been proven to be effective.

  • me

    I completely agree with the following statement:

    ” … the United States’ and the world’s problems originate FROM WITHIN THE U.S. GOVERNMENT’S OWN STRUCTURES – an enormous leap forward which, as he puts it, suggests ‘that all the naïve cover stories are about to collapse in a shock of recognition that networks infesting the US Government do indeed actively create and produce terrorist events for their own evil purposes. We need more mole detectors at the NSC, CIA, State Department, and Pentagon – not more harassment of the traveling public .”


  • John Wright

    After a terrorist hid explosives in his shoes everytime you go thru airport off come the shoes.The most recent guy hid them in his underwear does this mean that from now on we will have to wear our underwear on the outside our pants? I think you are more likely to end up landing in the Hudson River or dealing with drunks on a plane before the possiblitie of being blown up mid air by some stooge with loaded underwear!

  • muffler

    The technical points in this article are rational and should be enlightening to most people. The addition of scanners will not provide anything but a veneer to the current capability while possibly cause damage to the air travel industry (long lines, delays, false readings etc.) Scanners do not provide any new risk reduction to the existing infrastructure and the money would be better spent on consistent/continued training to airport security people. Recognizing and Improving the quality of the personnel (as Israel has for years) is a much better investment. Technology does not automatically mean better.

    With that said I would more afraid of the decrease in maintenance hours and personnel by the airlines to increase profits then the terrorists. In 8 years we have had two terrorists on aircraft that tried and were unsuccessful. This equates to you having a 10X better chance of being hit by lightening. Maybe we should spend the money on personal lightening protection.

  • Art

    I’ve seen scanners and it didn’t end well for any of the parties involved.

  • Vaughan

    LOL Art, no it didn’t end well at all did it….

    All I can say is that its so typical for the US to tell us what we need to do to improve security when their security agencies were already aware of this individual but did nothing about it. Honestly I give up, how do 300 million red necks and religious right wingers hold so much sway over the rest of us who don’t really have anything to fear?

  • http://riffenberg.wordpress.com/ Karen

    I’m wondering how many liberal, left wing, Marxist, pagan, moon beamers are going to hold things like this over me. LOL! and I mean moon beamers dancing around fires to increase the energy level, cretins. Exactly where does this end? How much will people put up with? Now the papers are talking about mobile body scanners. You won’t be able to walk down the street without some pervert checking out your genitalia and the scanners do show genitalia. In fact, TSA employees are instructed, genitalia must be seen for the scanners to be effective. Brain scanners, taser bracelets and even sedatives for passengers are being considered. This is just the beginning. Prison planet!

  • http://www.fredspage2.org Fred Lovett

    What happened to the conspiracy theorists? The people who packed the bombs in someone’s luggage – and then let one though? LOL But I will never visit the US again. 20 years was enough.

  • http://absolute-sense.blogspot.com/ British Coal

    I refuse to allow three-dimensional electromagnetic images of me to be used for the sexual gratification of airport secrity staff. If these filthy perverts want to sit around all day leering at pornographic images of fat holidaymakers then they can do it at home, on their own time, like the rest of us. I would rather board a plane with an extremist who I KNEW to be carrying a bomb than suffer this vile intrusion. Join my campaign to ban the introduciton of these scanners.

  • pat

    You should just get over it and stop bitchin about it

  • Choi

    Maybe I think that if you use a right material and ware it over your body and hide bomb materials like plastic bomb under it or sculpt it to a body shape with a right texture and all, the 3-d machine cannot detact it by a human eye or even by human touch… The question is whether the terrorists have access to such technology?

  • Angie

    How about a non-violent body check… that´s how police(wo)men find out, whether somebody is carrying a weapon or not…. It´s far cheaper! Perhaps that´s what security staff in Isreal are doing!

    Why not let Germany have their own laws? It is their own country after all. Does the USA own the whole world? I don´t think so!

  • Angie

    My private body parts are supposed to remain private. I don´t want them to be shown all over the place. That´s humiliating. I would agree to a non-violent body check as described above though.

  • Maria

    The problem is that we continue to allow the government to treat us like puppets. This article highlits the reasons why the scanners are worthless. In addition to being worthless, they expose us to radiation and jeopardize the life of the unborn baby. What we all need to do is to stand up and say NO. Write letters, boycott airlines, sign petitions…Join the group “All Facebook Against Full Body Scanners” for more information and ideas. Enough is enough. They are really crossing the line here. NOBODY is going to see me or my children naked before boarding a plane. This is so wrong. And do you know why they are installing scanners? Because somebody in the US is making a lot of money and paying tax $$$ to the government. Why don’t they bring dogs to sniff explosives, plastic, etc? As somebody said here, we always do anything the US says!

  • Jennifer Angela

    I think full body scanners are demeaning. Why steal innocent people´s dignity?

  • Bill Clinton

    Too Bad. You’re going to put up with body and brain scanners and like it. Also carbon taxes along with poisoned food, vaccines and water. Useless eaters are going to get exterminated, one way or another to save Gaia.

  • Law Abiding Citizen

    Funny how people are willing to strip their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters naked to strangers in the name of security? Knowing what the machines reveal, no matter where in the building they are monitoring from, how can anyone in their right mind say “it’s a small price to say”? The problem is, the following words are taken too lightly or pretty much has no more meaning left: Dignity, shame, decency, human value, morality, goodness, holiness, piety and finally, PRIVACY. It’s my body, not yours.

  • Donglewurzle

    The blog is bang right (forgive the pun) these scans will find their way onto the net in two ticks and newspapers will outbid each other for celebrity scans or to ridicule Garry Glitter’s todger. Along with photographs of your girlfriend’s and daughter’s private parts. Whose to say where they will go and what medical research purposes they might contribute to once the genie is out of the box? Most Sensational Naked Travellers Body Scans Series 24 – Anatomically Miniscule Penises Caught on Camera? This breach in personal security WILL happen in equal measure to further bombing bids because the ‘security’ experts who advise government full well know that they cannot ever guarantee security in or out. It’s like trying to use a nail to hammer a nail – it won’t work. Then 20 years later there will be a queue of thousands of people claiming damages for radiated cancer problems. What really dismays me is the way really, really, really stupid people are willing to stand for this crap on the basis that it will ‘save lives’. Lives without dignity, privacy, confidentiality or decency? Is that a life worth saving? Then they silently and acquiescently queue up to walk through the scanner and glance up to see the moto ‘ Arbeit Macht Frei’ .

  • Chelsie Castillo

    This past week I traveled from California to Virginia for a teacher’s institute in Williamsburg. I didn’t see this new scanning machine until I was being screened at the Richmond airport on my way home (July 6th, 2010). While I was in line, I discussed how this made me feel uncomfortable and that I had never seen the images myself, but that my husband said that they are far too revealing.

    I was selected to enter this machine. While I was about to exit, one of the government employees said something about a “wedding day” I was a bit shocked when I heard that. As I continued towards him, he laughed and said that he “can really picture this one.” Later, I found out that he was in direct verbal contact with his coworker who was looking at my scanned body. There is no mistake that he was directing his conversation towards me. All of the nonverbal clues were there. He thought that he was quite funny while being flirtatious in nature.

    I was suprised at how his comments negatively effected me. I was very upset. I was badly shaking to the point that it was clearly visible to others standing near me and difficult to hold a pen and write. I found it difficult to speak and had to fight off the tears. I am not an emotional girl, but I felt so violated. The comments were bad enough, but the employee to made these comments thought that he was hilarious.

    I made a report and soon after hear from one of my fellow passengers that one of the senior employees told her to let me know that the two men were only talking about a freinds wedding. I am sure that all who were involved clearly understood that these were direct and horrible comments towards an innocent paying customer. How sad that the people who are in charge are willing to help cover up this perverse behavior! It’s only getting started; when will we demand that innocent people have the freedom to privacy and the freedom to fly without being sexually harrassed.

    Not that it matters, but I was wearing full-length jeans and a shirt that practically went up to the bottom of my neck. I was not dressed as though I was looking for attention!

    I will forever be terrified to walk through the airport in fear that I will be taken advantage of again. I am told that the only other alternative is to get a pat down. What kind of alternative is this?

  • Outrageous

    Any method of security measure will be 100 percent effective until it is necessary for our goverment by it’s self or in cahoots with the Mossad to let a fake terrorist get through with some explosive device. We will be subjected to a loss of freedom and dignity yet somehow, magically, a “terrorist” will always seem to make it through. I will not give up my dignity or freedom for a pretend need for this type of security. I will not be flying.

  • This is absolutely insane

    This is beyond belief. I shouldn’t be afraid of flying home to my family for Thanksgiving because there’s a good chance someone from Government gets to check out every crevice of my, or my younger sister’s, body. The logic at work here is that the scanners are literally only there to allow agents to scrutinize your genitals and/or breasts with greater clarity. This is crazy. This is like a bad dystopian novel where everyone reading is saying to themselves, “God, can you imagine if we were to really let it get that bad? Molested just to go to the airport, imagine!”

  • Elliander

    They should throw the scanners away and invest in thermal imaging security scanners. You wouldn’t have to stop. no one would notice them, but they can detect items even inside the body and I can buy one for 70.00 on Amazon – not 100 thousand.

  • Katie

    I think you have some valid points but is still think that they are good things to have.

  • L

    If you are against these scanners and/or enhanced pat-downs–please, please do something. 9/11 started dangerous mindsets. People are willing to give up too much. Stop this before it gets crazier. Around the world these scanners are being installed. Let’s set a good example.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve flown. I’ve been saving up to go overseas, but I’m too scared to go now. I’m more scared of TSA than terrorists. What about people who want to go overseas, people who have jobs that involve flying? What about those who are very sensitive to being touched or looked at (like sexual assault victims.) Should we have to give up modesty and even more important–privacy to see family overseas, lose jobs because of this? For security that isn’t all that great, and highly expensive? I think many of us can agree that it’s not the time to be spending on something like that.

    If you are a U.S. citizen–

    Write TSA: https://contact.tsa.dhs.gov/DynaForm.aspx?FormID=10
    Write the White House to put pressure on the situation: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
    Write your Rep: https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml

    And read up. The more you know, the more you won’t like all this. There are plenty of groups to watch and join.

    Thank you.

  • Lucy

    To Chelsea Castillo: I know this is a little late from when you commented, but I just wanted to say I feel terrible for what happened to you, and although we can only go by ancedotal evidence, I truly believe that females are being targeted for the fully body scanner. I was traveling home from a vacation in Florida with a friend from work. Our home airport does not have the full body scanners, so coming home from Florida was my first encounter. Although, to my dismay when I saw this was in use, I was still hoping I could just go through the traditional metal detector because I saw people ahead of me going through it. My friend and I got in line for the traditional metal detector like everyone else, but were quickly told by a barking male tsa agent that we were both to go through the full body scanner. So I opted out, as did my friend. We were commanded to stand aside. As we were standing there, that same tsa male came over and grossly whispered in my ear, you do know what’s in store for you don’t you? At that moment, it became clear to me that this man wanted nothing more than to send two young women through the full body scanner so his buddy in the back could get his jollies. It had nothing to do with security. He even left his “all-important” post to come over to get in my face. Then the next shift, his buddy would return the favor. I felt so disgusted. My patdown was hugely violating, however, at least, or I hope, the woman feeling me up wasn’t enjoying it like Bubba’s buddy in the back would have enjoyed my friend’s and I’s naked photo. This madness needs to end. What happened to me and friend is happening all across this country to people’s wives, sisters, and daughters, etc.

  • Unthdel

    My partner and I stumbled over here by a different website and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so now i am following you. Look forward to looking over your web page repeatedly. Great post and I would check back again soon!


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