I’m Not Worried About Airport Body Scanners

I’m Not Worried About Airport Body Scanners

News over the weekend that Australia will introduce body scanners at international airports is bound to stir up the same sort of controversy as the US introduction of the technology. Speaking as a frequent traveller, I don’t give a damn.

The systems will be rolled out from July this year, and once that happens you won’t have the option of requesting a pat-down instead. It’s that detail that appears to be stirring up objections initially, along with the usual objections to measures that might not make any real difference to airport security. But those measures are a fact of life these days. Whining about them won’t make me feel any better.

I experienced a TSA body scanner for the first time on my recent trip to the US. I made a slight idiot of myself by not standing still long enough initially — I hadn’t clocked that the scan was going to happen — but apart from that it was extremely straightforward.

Given the choice, I would much rather do that than have to get patted down by some grumpy, underpaid security guard. I’m also conscious that the process of getting scanned is quicker, especially since it doesn’t demand matching up the gender of the guard with the gender of the person getting patted down. I’m all for anything that makes getting through an airport quicker.

Yes, I know there’s a theoretical risk that those images could end up on the internet somewhere. However, at this point, there’s more than enough embarrassing material about me online anyway. I’m really not worried about infra-red shots of my junk joining the party, and the technology isn’t meant to include that level of detail anyway.

So that’s my take. What’s yours? Tell us in the comments.


  • The risk is that a software bug could result in the scanner frying your skin. But we all know that software never has bugs, don’t we. And that people always load the latest updates into their hardware as soon as it’s available – and patches never introduce problems.

    What I’m more concerned about, as a red-blooded-male, is their insistence on patting me down by a male – as far as I’m concerned, I need to see something proving I’m not being groped by a homosexual.

      • 1. It is ok to not like something
        2. It is ok to not want to be touched by someone
        3. You either are ok with people not being ok with things, meaning that everyone has free choice, OR you are not, meaning that if someone disagrees with you, they are then ‘wrong’.

        If someone doesnt want to be touched by a homosexual, then that is their choice and you should respect that. It would be different if he said “i dont want to be touched by a black man” – because that has no sexual aspect attached to it.

        Either tolerate the intolerance, or dont. But if you DONT, then you opinion is void as you are being a hypocrite

        • 1. agreed
          2. agreed
          3. WTF are you talking about?
          Where exactly did I say there was a homosexual on the job? I simply pointed out that ‘pedant’ or pedantic up there may have issues. Since when did they start hiring people based on their sexuality? If the guy doing the pat down is gay then that’s his deal and has nothing to do with the way he does his job. You seem to have gotten my comment mixed up with your own issues!

        • Pretty sure you got the wrong end of the stick here, timmy didn’t say that the guy should like being groped by a homosexual he just said an attendants sexuality was his own business!!

          • +1
            Also since when does opposing something become a right, in the words of Stephen fry, its only a whine.

          • Who gives a fuck your passing through an Airport terminal which hundreds of people use and as of September 2001 you expect security from this service. Furthermore you expect the security to work, this involves every person being eligible to a full body pat down. Your expectations on security don’t work when you believe you are exempt from such processes. Therefore, shut the fuck up and live with what you expect from these services. If some homosexual has a job in Customs and his job is to pat down 1200 men per day, then he’s cheering cause he gets to touch balls all day. But this is not your choice, deal with it, homosexual or not, a person will eventually touch your ball sack for the sake of security.

    • lol what a dumb comment.
      1. the machines are probably limited by hardware to exceed any dangerous levels of radiation
      2. If they update the software they would obviously test it after before putting people through it.

      as for the 2nd part of that, refer to ‘Timmahh’ comment.

    • A software bug cannot cause the infrared emitters to suddenly emit several times more energy than they were designed for (to the point that it would quickly burn someone), and also paralyse the person being scanned (so they don’t immediately say “ouch” and move). Neither of these is possible, both would need to happen for there to be a danger to the scanned.

    • Whether an officer is homosexual or not is irrelevant to the job he is doing. Seriously, I get so sick of people assuming that gay = pervert. If it’s our job to body-search hundreds of people a day, trust me, we’re not going to get off on “feeling your junk”.

      Or are you afraid that someone might actually treat you the same way some heterosexuals treat women?

  • I don’t see the problem if they only see a generic image with overlay of possible risks? What risk are you talking about though? they don’t see anything titillating at all?

  • These types of scanners are banned in Europe. Why is Australia stupid enough to get them? This reminds me of the BPA saga all over again. For those of you who don’t know BPA is a cancerogenic substance banned in Europe, eventually the US started banning it and Australia (after years of denying it was a problem) started to ban it as well. We shouldn’t be following the US in terms of consumer safety, we should be following the EU – they’re much more clued up.

  • How does the amount of radiation from one of these scanners compare with the amount you get sitting in a granite building for an hour? Or for that matter, from being high up in the atmosphere in a plane for a few hours? Sometimes these things get taken all out of proportion.

  • Aside from the fact there is no security benefit to be gained by this hugely expensive piece of theatre masquerading as safety I do worry about the safety of the machines, and would worry more if I were a frequent traveller. I work in the health sector and we go to great lengths to avoid getting iradiated regularly, it seems pretty stupid to willingly submit to it just to go on holidays. The little bit of proper research I’ve been able to find so far suggests the airport machines are risky because they iradiate differently to medical x-ray machines. Airport machines only go skin deep – so while their output is lower than medical equipment the concentration is greater because medical x-ray equipment is designed to disperse the radition evenly through the body part being x-rayed.

    It bugs the heck out of me that people are so willing to accept that this crap is a legitimate cost of travelling these days. If everyone arked up the machines would disappear in a heartbeat and we’d still be as safe as ever They don’t need no stinking back scatter x-ray nonsense in Israel – just intelligent, well-paid people using observational skills – I have never felt as safe as in Israeli airports.

  • I couldn’t care less about the “health” problems with this technology.

    What annoys me is the fact these are even being introduced. Why? What do we need them for?

    So lets say they do have some reason, why are then only for international flights? Are Australian’s not as important? The same question can be asked about liquid bans, why if liquids over 100ml’s are so dangerous, do we still allow them on domestic flights but not international flights?

    This is BS security theatre plain and simple. These measure aren’t here to “protect” us, they’re being put in place to keep the Americans happy. An you know what I’m not fine with that. We’re wasting money on these things, yet complaining about lack of funding for other things. We all had to pay extra money this year in our tax in order to rebuild critical infrastructure damaged in the Queensland floods, how about you stop wasting money on stuff like body scanners at international airports and start using it to repair this infrastructure without robbing your citizens.

  • it is a bad road we go down
    increasingly -> bag searching, metal scanners, body pat downs, full body imaging,
    What is the next step because it has already been proven you can sneak weapons past the imagers.
    Get fully naked, put to sleep for the whole trip for safety reasons,.
    It will only take one terrorist getting past the body scanners to try out the next phase of searching.
    Then of course it will be required where ever a terrorist might attack, a full body scanner to go to a concert or sports game or getting into school.

    • +1
      I’m not conceited enough to think that what is under my clothes is any more special than what is under the clothes of every other person who will go through the scanner.

  • I have a big tackle , I look forward to showing it off at the airport.

    Hopefully they introduce them at shopping centres soon to stop theft so I have another place to show off my impressive manhood 🙂

    Jokes aside , we are aligned to the most hated country on the planet , we need to keep security in place. There will be more attacks on the US and her allies over the next 20+ years. Its not over the top. And security is not its exclusive usuage , it is also to stop trafficing of banned substances. I am happy to leave home 10 minutes earlier to go through the process.

  • In the US you can opt out of the scan, under this new proposal you will not be able to opt-out. It will be very interesting when the first American tourist declines the scan – what are they going to do with them? Keep them here? Oh yeah and there’s the little matter of all the oncologists, radiographers, dermatologists etc who’ll decline. The whole idea is a stupid, expensive embarrassment waiting to happen.

  • Wow… This article is too general to be useful. Getting into more detail:

    There are two different types of scanners; xray backscatter and millimetre wave.

    X-Ray backscatter has unanswered health questions. Specifically, your estimated chance of a) dying of cancer from the extra radiation you get while flying high in the atmosphere, b) dying of cancer from the extra X-rays you get from the scanner, and c) dying from terrorism are all of the same magnitude. The statistics on b) are the least well studied, it could be much worse, or much better than that, but we just don’t know.

    Millimetre wave scanners do not appear to pose the same health risks.

    There are also two different common complaints about the scanners: a) that they allow people to see through clothing, and b) that they’re a health risk. As I said above, the health risk only applies to one type of scanner – the xray backscatter type. I’m personally not concerned about the police seeing me naked, although I can see why it is more of an issue for women and children.

    My understanding is that Australia is getting the millimetre wave scanners, so the health risks are not an issue. I believe that is a picture of a millimetre wave scanner shown.

    It isn’t clear to me that the law enforcement advantages are worth the civil liberties costs, but without the health concerns I have trouble getting too worked up about it.

  • Pretty ridiculous saying that there would be no software bug nor hardware problem with the scanners.

    Had an abdominal medical scan few years back. The scanner had stopped but was still emitting. Consequently got a burning sensation in the diaphragm.

    The operator stood frozen to the spot, he was ashen faced upon being told. These machines do malfunction.

    • Even aside from bugs, these things are calibrated by ordinary people who’ll probably go through a day-long course on how to run it.

      Machines aren’t infallible, but it’s a safe bet that most of the issues will be caused by the operator. It’s just in this case, the operator is running a machine that blasts radiation at you in order to see through your clothes.

      As Angus said, “I would much rather do that than have to get patted down by some grumpy, underpaid security guard”. The problem is the grumpy, underpaid guard, and giving them new tools wont fix that.

  • Seriously, we should just have a line for terrorists, and another for normal passengers like you and me. Everyone in the terrorist line gets a full body/cavity search and x-ray, while everyone in the non-terrorist line, just gets told off for the outrageous size of their carry-on luggage.

    As an additional precaution, everyone in the non-terrorist line will be casually asked if they are actually a terrorist, and if they say yes, they will be politely asked to move into the terrorist line, but will be bumped to the front of the line as a priority, as well as being given a free lollipop.

  • Once again we do something just because the Americans do it, like we cannot think for ourselves.
    1. Total waste of money, they can be easily fooled, German students already showed us that, the only ones gaining from this are the corporations making them.
    2. The X-ray type is exposing us to unnecessary radiation, millimeter wave is not proven safe either.
    3. I don’t care about naked images of me but I object on the grounds of privacy and I don’t want some pedophile getting his rocks off when my children go trough the machine.
    4. Israel’s airports managed just fine without them and they are the worlds biggest target.
    We are not the criminals here.
    http://www.infowars.com regularly covers these topics and real world politics.

  • As far as I can find, the majority of animal cancer studies show no response to chronic exposure of microwave radiation, some show an increased rate of tumor growth. The same increase also occurs in chronically–stressed animals not exposed to radiation

    I’m not actually clear if these are active or passive scanners for the Australian deployment. If they’re passive – which seems plausible given the images produced – I really have no concerns at all beyond that I think it’s probably a waste of money. Although on the scale of money wasted in the kind of bureaucracies that run airports, I doubt it’s significant to be honest.

    If it’s active? There’s a minor concern that maybe something bad could happen in a really, really, really unlikely circumstance. But compared to driving to the airport? I really don’t see it as a significant risk.

    And honestly? If you’ve been through Ben Gurion in Israel and felt like your privacy was less invaded by the interrogations than when you went through the nudie scanners in the US? I think you had a different experience to the norm. If you’re ok with the blatant racism inherent in their security process – I’m not entirely comfortable with your ethics on this topic.

    And if you’re ok with the ethics of racial profiling because you think that the only people targeted for incredibly invasive interrogations at Ben Gurion are clearly probable terrorists based on the young arabic muslim male profiles? I’d think again. I’m a very pale caucasian of scottish/welsh descent with visible piercings and tattoo’s, an Australian accent, and an atheist so no visible religious symbols or anything of that nature, flew in in standard western casual outfit with an Australian passport and all the dots lined up for my visa. I found the whole process invasive and uncomfortable. I was flying in as part of a team project for work and several other guys I worked with – who were all also basically free of profiling markers other than that they were guys under 40 – I don’t think any of the guys on that project were comfortable with the customs experience. And all of us had a fair bit of international travel experience. It wasn’t as uncomfortable as south america/central africa where you see your local escort negotiate bribes while unstable looking people with automatic weapons try really hard to make you uncomfortable. But it certainly wasn’t the model I’d want to see Australia base airport security off of.

  • I had the option to have one of these when the were first starting to be rolled out in america. I simply asked whichever was quickest/easiest and hence i went through the body scan. It’s so much easier and literally takes 10 seconds. The risk is negligible and it speeds airports up. The fact is if someone really wanted to smuggle something in there’d be other ways. This like most of it’s predecessors’ is to make the passengers “feel” more at ease.

  • Lets list all the things i don’t give a damn about… religion, speeding, vegetarian anything, paint, grass, anti-piracy laws, kids, writing articles about things i don’t give a damn about, people who write about things that they don’t give a damn about.

  • The radiation may be measurable to that of a mobile phone, but the difference is a mobile phones radiation permeates and travels through our body, the radiation given off in these scanners enters the skin (less than 15% surface area) meaning more than 6 times the radiation. This puts anyone over 65, pregnant women, young children and breast cancer prone women in danger, as well as HIV and melanoma patients at higher risk. My source stems from the study taken by John Sedat Ph.D & Marc Shuman MD. An easy example is like placing a baby in a bath without supervision because ‘there isn’t as much water as a pool’ Thanks Australian Government…

    sorry if repost, accidently refreshed as i posted.. cant see my comment tho so maybe its not a repost, but if it is sorry mods!

  • Several points:

    1. There is no compelling evidence to show that these machines have materially improved safety in the US. (Efficacy)
    2. They are extremely expensive (Cost)
    3. This is a zero-sum game: the money invested in these machines will reduce expenditure in other areas. (Opportunity cost)
    4. There is compelling evidence to lead to real concern about the radiation exposures caused by these devices. (Health risk)
    5. Where is the risk? The risk being addressed here is aircraft hijacking, which for geographic reasons, is not typically a feature of terrorism in this country. We’re not Israel, we’re not the US, we’re not Europe. (No need)

    Countering this, Angus’ argument is “I tried it, and saw no big deal”. Strangely, I am not compelled.

    Frankly, this announcement is a complete joke, and US TSA-style security theatre.

    I’d like to see this money spent on better HUMINT, better baggage screening, and better investment in the front line staff. And even then, the current setup has meant we’ve never actually had an incident.

    So fundamentally, this is all a huge waste of time and money, which could cost some people their lives through radiation exposure.

  • So, do these pick up piercings, and what happens then? I’ve only ever flown domestically, and have never had an issue with the metal detectors & my piercings (I have somewhere around 20, although each one individually is very small).
    Can they tell they are piercings and not … nano weapons?
    I really wouldn’t care if they show on the scans, as long as they know what they are and that’s it. I’ve had xrays done with most of my piercings still in (a lot of body piercings can’t be removed) and am fine with them showing on things like this, but wouldn’t be too happy if I had to actually, physically, show & tell…

    My biggest issue would be if I ever had to fly while pregnant. I know there are much more dangerous radio waves out there, but limiting your exposure as much as you can (even miniscule amounts) surely is a good thing…
    Have they been able to test, and categorically say that there is NO harm in going through these scanners at each stage of pregnancy?
    “The ‘millimetre-wave’ body scanners are perfectly safe” ……Innocent until proven guilty maybe?

    Why not have an opt out version??!?

  • Isn’t anybody worried about the big picture here? Planes fall out of the sky ALL THE TIME and for NO APPARENT REASON! They should all be banned. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about our our civil rights being microwaved.

    • What did you mean “‘They should all be banned’? Who is ‘they’? Your post makes no sense.

      People who write in caps and shout at other people should get banned.

      Would you like a full cavity search every time you go into a supermarket or a train station?

  • Is there a way to fight this new bill. Are there any petitions out or protests? What can the public do to stop these greedy people from taking away our rights and putting us in danger.

  • This articles seems fishy to me. Who’s paying you to try to change public opinion Kidman? You give in easily on one personal freedom and many more will be taken away before you know it…1984! You’ve been a reporter for a long time time, however I prefer to trust independant sources these days.

  • Like a frog in water being slowly heated, it does not realise it is being cooked to death.
    Government security officers ordering people to put their hands up feet apart at their check points is traditionally a practice associated with martial law when a nation is at war and under siege.
    The war on terror is a war without end because no definition of success has and will never will be given because the power elite do not wish you to believe that public authority has any power over their authority. Your rights are being cooked to death, so ahead fools put your hands up in surrender!

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