Are TSA scaneers safe? No one realy knows for sure.

airport security by wseltzer

Feature: The physics and biology of the TSA’s backscatter security scanners
[Via Ars Technica]

The recent deployment of backscatter scanning devices meant for airline passengers has caused controversies focused on both the privacy issues of the scans and the safety of the devices themselves (not to mention the unpleasant alternative of an aggressive frisking). The discussion of safety issues has been clouded by two competing narratives. On one side, there’s radiation exposure that’s comically low compared to what comes from simply boarding the aircraft and being lifted above a lot of the Earth’s atmosphere. On the other, there are arguments that the sort of exposure generated by backscatter devices is somehow different.

To provide a better perspective on matters, we’ll explain why both of these arguments are right.


A very nice article but the upshot is that the safety of these machines is based on physics calculation not medical ones. There has not been a lot of work with the effects of low energy X-rays delivered like these machines do.

And there is still no convincing word on the calibration of these machines, the energy source or much of the inner workings of the machines. As this NYT article shows, there can be thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of safe exposures to radiation.

But if you happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, you die. And that is with exposure where there are clear benefits for the risks. Here there are none.

I’ll probably be asking for a pat down instead of risking this device. I’ll just ask them to change their gloves since i really so not want the glove that handled someone else’s groin and butt to handle mine.