|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
f you somehow missed the hoopla, there are two types of machines being installed, which have raised concerns about privacy, health risks and even their effectiveness at catching terrorists. The more controversial “backscatter” devices project an X-ray beam onto the body, creating an image displayed on a monitor viewed by a T.S.A. employee in another room. The “millimeter wave” machines, which are considered less risky because they do not use X-rays, bounce electromagnetic waves off the body to produce a similar image.
Unlike metal detectors, these machines can detect objects made with other materials, like plastic and ceramic. But they can’t see anything hidden inside your body, or detect certain explosives.
The T.S.A. claims that the machines have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the Commerce Department’s National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. But when I called these organizations to ask about their evaluations, I learned that they basically tested only one thing — whether the amount of radiation emitted meets guidelines established by the American National Standards Institute, a membership organization of companies and government agencies.
But guess who was on the committee that developed the guidelines for the X-ray scanners? Representatives from the companies that make the machines and the Department of Homeland Security, among others. In other words, the machines passed a test developed, in part, by the companies that manufacture them and the government agency that wants to use them.
Mr. Kimball said passengers can choose not to go through the scanner and opt for the metal detector and a pat down instead, information that is also on the T.S.A.’s Web site. But the message travelers are getting at the airport isn’t that clear.
“It definitely didn’t feel optional at all,” said Drew Hjelm, an Army veteran who recently encountered the X-ray machine at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. After asking to go through the metal detector, being turned down and even speaking with a supervisor, he was given other choices.
“The officer said, either you go through the body scanner or you leave the airport or we’re going to call the police and they’re going to come and arrest you,” Mr. Hjelm said. “After I went through the body scanner, they still patted my pants down.”
Since other passengers have said they weren’t given a choice, or were subjected to an aggressive pat down if they declined to be X-rayed, the Electronic Privacy Information Center has created an online form for travelers to report problems.
The advocacy group has also filed a motion in court to suspend the body scanner program, saying that it violates the Fourth Amendment (and other statutes) by imposing search procedures that are more intrusive than the courts have allowed for routine screening.