Scientists Challenge TSA on Body-Scanner Safety Claims

Friday, 10 Jun 2011 04:18 PM

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Scientists are challenging Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) assertions about the safety of the controversial full-body X-ray scanners at airports around the country. Evidence released to support TSA claims is unreliable and question why the government won’t make the scanners available for independent testing, the scientists allege, according to ProPublica.

TSA, body scanner, scientists, safetyThe TSA maintains the backscatter technology used in the devices have been evaluated and found safe by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, the nonprofit, online investigative organization reported.

However, a letter to White House science adviser John Holden points out flaws in the tests. The letter is signed by five professors at University of California, San Francisco, and one at Arizona State University.

The letter’s primary author, John Sedat, a professor emeritus in biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, told ProPublica, "There's no real data on these machines, and in fact, the best guess of the dose is much, much higher than certainly what the public thinks.”


In the April 28th letter, the scientists said Johns Hopkins did not test an actual airport scanner but instead used a model build by manufacturer Rapiscan. The letter also notes that the report on the tests is "heavily redacted" that "there is no way to repeat any of these measurements.”

The machines are designed to uncover objects hidden under clothing such as explosives and ceramic knives and were put into use in response to complaints about pat-down searches in the wake of the underwear bombers’ attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas Day 2009. The scanners are to be in use at all airport security lines by 2014, ProPublica reported.

The TSA did not respond to ProPublica’s questions about allowing outside testing, but a TSA official told members of Congress that doing so would expose sensitive information.

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