Full-body scans at airports are expensive but not effective

Some say the technology poses health risks, which is why passengers can opt out of the scan.


Sea-Tac International Airport will soon be able to conduct full-body security scans of passengers as the federal government begins installing the equipment.

That means folks from all over Washington (including the Walla Walla Valley) who fly out of Seattle will soon be undergoing full-body scans. Well, unless they opt out and then they will be allowed to use the old method.

What? If anybody can opt out then how does this improve security?

Clearly it doesn't. Although the makers of this expensive, high-tech screening process are going to make oodles of money.

The devices have already been installed at 48 airports including Spokane and Boise to mixed reviews.

The scans have raised health and privacy concerns.

The scans allow Transportation Security Administration agents to see through clothes by using low-dose X-rays that produce a nude image -- albeit blurry image-- that can be screened for nonmetallic items such as weapons and explosives hidden under clothes.

Frankly, we see the privacy concern as being somewhat nebulous. Even if these images get out, and TSA officials say they won't, it is impossible to tell who it is or what a person looks like. It's just an x-ray.

The health concerns seem much more valid.

The Seattle Times reported scientists at the University of California and Columbia University in New York are calling for more study.

"The majority of (the scanners') energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue," the California scientists wrote in what they titled a "Letter of Concern." The scientists said the dose of radiation would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, but the dose to the skin may be dangerously high, they said.

More study was clearly in order. It should have been done before spending millions of dollars on this equipment.

To this point, the metal-detector approach to airport security has been effective. Replacing it with the full-body scan has added controversy to the mix but not much security, particularly since passengers can opt out and instead go through the metal detector.

Anybody who was planning on bringing a weapon would surely opt out of the full-body scan.

The overriding reason these machines -- with a price tag of about $170,000 each -- are on the fast track is because they were purchased with federal stimulus dollars. This is all about boosting the economy, not security. That's a lousy and expensive approach to protecting the nation.

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