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Entries in backscatter x-rays (7)

Thursday
Nov172011

Europe to Ban Full-body X-ray Scans at Airports

Can you feel the heat, TSA?

After Europe announced that it is banning airport “strip-search” X-rays over health concerns, calls for the TSA to follow suit have gained even more strength, the Daily Mail reports.

Officials from the European Union fear that the X-ray scanners, which emit low-radiation doses, could cause cancer in air passengers. And with millions of people going through the scanners every year, the health risks are a serious consideration. In fact, research shows that up to 100 U.S. passengers could get cancer from the scanners every year.

Although TSA has been especially enthusiastic about the advanced scanners, fears about the health risks they pose were raised as far back as 1998. Then, a panel of radiation safety experts “expressed concerns about the machine because it violated a longstanding principle that humans should not be X-rayed unless there is a medical purpose.”

But TSA has always maintained that the scanners are safe and, in terms of radiation exposure, equivalent to about two minutes of flight time. Besides, the group says, the scanners detect security threats that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Around 250 X-ray scanners and 264-milimeter-wave scanners are currently used in America’s airports, according to ProPublica.

Wednesday
Mar022011

DHS Signs Contracts for Covert Mobile Body Scanners 

An image created by a Z Backscatter Van scan

The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained documents Tuesday that suggest the Department of Homeland Security is seeking mobile and static scanning technology that will be used on people without their knowledge or consent. 

InHardFocus reported in August 2010 that companies like American Science & Engineering were already taking advanced scanning technology mobile. But the EPIC news indicates that DHS will soon make use of these mobile, covert scanners. 

DHS states that the technology will help officials quickly detect concealed explosives, which will ensure the safety of individuals in urban and transportation hubs. 

One contract calls for AS&E's Z Backscatter Van to be used as part of an Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance platform, which can be used anywhere.

Another requests a walk-through x-ray device that could be used at the entrance to special events and other points of interest. 

The technology used in these types of mobile and static screening systems is similar (and, in some case, may be identical) to that used at airport security checkpoints, which includes backscatter and millimeter-wave technology. 

Of course, EPIC is already warming up for war over these contracts. Computer World reported that an EPIC spokeswomen said using these technologies to scan people without their consent is an invasion of privacy and a violation of Fourth Amendment rights. Not to mention the possible safety risks that come from repeated exposure to these advanced scanning technologies (a subject on which TSA is still mum). 

So far, it's unclear whether the DHS contracts have been completed. 

Tuesday
Feb082011

'Tiered' Security: The Solution TSA Has Been Waiting For?

 

Finally, America might be on the verge of an airport security screening procedure that works--and makes sense.

The New York Times reported today that two transportation associations are hard at work developing a new strategy for U.S. airport security: one that does not involve the possibility of advanced imaging technology or enhanced TSA pat-downs for all passengers. 

Both the International Air Transport Association and the U.S. Travel Association support a "tiered" approach, in which travelers are divided into three groups--trusted, regular and risky--and screened accordingly.

Step one? Create a "trusted traveler program" that would pre-screen passengers and allow them to bypass lengthy security queues. Such a set-up might be similar to the now-defunct CLEAR Program, which enabled paying members to avoid continual re-screening by providing extensive personal data to TSA. 

In a similar program, called Global Entry, members pay a $100 annual fee and submit to an interview, background check and fingerprint scan before earning the privilege of clearing Customs through a kiosk, rather than by speaking to an agent.

Step two would involve identifying the risky passengers. Luckily, in the wake of 9/11, many of the riskiest U.S. passengers have already been identified. And this information can be continually updated based on data gathered by the government and airlines. 

As the Times article points out: 

“Today we have TSA agents looking at TV screens, but they don’t know anything about the person going through the system,” said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association. “The idea is to take data that the government and the airlines are already collecting about passengers and bring it to the checkpoint.”

Passengers in the risky group would be subject to advanced screening techniques, which may include millimeter-wave and backscatter imaging technology and physical pat-downs. 

The regular passengers--those who are not deemed risky but haven't opted into the trusted traveler program--would, presumably, still have to go through metal detectors and get their carry-ons screened. However, wait times should be lessened, since many of the passengers who, in the past, have held up the line would be in the risky group. 

While this might not be an ideal solution to the question of airport security--What happens if your name accidentally ends up on the "risky" list? How easily could terrorists take advantage of the trusted traveler program?--it certainly seems to be a step in the right direction. Here's hoping TSA pays attention. 

Monday
Dec132010

Introducing TSA-friendly Privacy Enhanced Travel Clothing, From IHF

As the Transportation Security Administration’s airport screening procedures have become increasingly invasive, passengers’ concern for their privacy has grown. That’s why In Hard Focus has teamed up with Betabrand, a San Francisco-based clothing innovator, to create Privates, a new line of privacy-enhanced travel clothing that will protect your privacy from invasive TSA security screening technology.

Sign up now to join the Privates Alpha Group at the Betabrand website. Only 50 intrepid travelers will get to be a part of this elite group of test-pilots. You’ll receive a special prototype pair of Privates Underwear to test-pilot, plus two pairs of production underwear when Privates takes flight. Best of all, you’ll get the fame and satisfaction that comes with test-piloting an important product into existence.

The Privates collection of T-shirts and boxers stands apart from other so-called privacy clothing products on the market. Other products that claim to protect passengers’ privacy from TSA’s advanced imaging technology incorporate metal stickers or patches. However, these products will show up on a scan as unknown objects hidden under a person’s clothing, triggering an enhanced pat-down or even more invasive screening procedures.

Only Privates T-shirts and boxers block airport body scanners in a way that will not get travelers pulled out of line. Privates clothing is treated with a specialized mix of metallic inks and other materials, and printed with a unique “interference” pattern. The result blocks airport body scanners but will not trigger a metal detector or prompt an enhanced pat-down by TSA operators.The unique interference pattern ensures that scanner operators do not confuse a modest, privacy-minded traveler with someone hiding an object under their clothes.

“The secret is in the optimized application of scanner-blocking materials,” said Stephen Russell, security and privacy expert, founder of In Hard Focus and the designer of Privates. “While the pattern and materials are more than enough to obscure and protect your ‘privates’ from prying eyes, they won’t show up with the intensity or structure of a hidden object—something that would get a traveler pulled out of line.”

Privates shield your body from the TSA's advanced imaging technology, ensuring that intrusive images of your “privates” will not be scanned or recorded by airport body scanners.

“People are afraid of airport scanners for good reason,” Russell said. "Who wants TSA employees looking at, and possibly keeping records or scans of, your naked body, like what happened recently at a Florida federal courthouse? But ‘opting out’ is even worse. Enhanced pat-downs are uncomfortable, awkward and can border on molestation.”

Comfortable, fashionable and machine-washable, Privates are 100-percent cotton.

 

Monday
Dec132010

Study: TSA's Advanced Scanners Still Miss Certain Explosives

A new study published in the Journal of Transportation Security finds that X-ray backscatter scanners cannot always detect certain explosives. Incendiary devices with tapered edges can fool advanced imaging scanners, especially when they are hidden on the side of the body.

In fact, contraband materials were only reliably detected in the study when they were packed directly on the front or back of the body or had hard edges. Certain materials were found to be relatively easy to hide on the sides of the body. And, even if the amount of X-ray exposure is increased dramatically, "normal anatomy would make a dangerous amount of plastic explosive with tapered edges difficult if not impossible to detect."

The researchers found that "it is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick 'pancake' with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology, ironically, because of its large volume, since it is easily confused with normal anatomy."

In other words, what advanced imaging technology might view as a large love handle could actually be a pancake of C4.

TSA has implemented AIT nationwide while sticking to the same story: The machines ensure your safety by making it nearly impossible to carry contraband aboard a plane and they protect your privacy by guaranteeing that the scans can't be saved. The latter claim has already been proven to be untrue. Now, this study seems to shatter the former as well.