The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Friday that it will retest the amount of potentially harmful radiation emitted by full-body X-ray scanners at U.S. airports by the end of March.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Friday that it will retest the amount of potentially harmful radiation emitted by full-body scanners at U.S. airports by the end of March.
The decision to retest all 247 backscatter machines deployed at 38 airports comes after maintenance records showed the amount of radiation released by some machines were 10 times higher than expected, according to USA Today . The TSA, however, maintains that the machines are safe and that technicians made errors when calculating the radiation emissions. According to the agency, even if the doses were accurate, the dosage would still be less than a person absorbs naturally every day, reports USA Today.
In an effort to reduce such errors in the future, all TSA contractors will have to retrain technicians involved in testing the machine's radiation doses, according to the TSA Blog . The agency said it will also strengthen its oversight of the radiation survey and documentation process. In another effort to assure the public that the agency isn't holding anything back, the TSA has begun to post all its radiation testing reports online, here .
The TSA uses two types of full-body scanners, backscatter and millimeter-wave. Both have been criticized on privacy grounds, but backscatter technology has endured added scrutiny due to its use of ionizing radiation, which poses cancer concerns. The TSA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, have repeatedly vouched for the safety of all full-body scanning technology.
Further, TSA has piloted software that only shows TSA screeners a gingerbread-man-like outline of passengers with potential threats superimposed, rather than an anatomically-correct image of a specific passenger. If successful, DHS and TSA hope it will eliminate all privacy concerns.
In early March, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) released DHS documents that showed the department's intent to deploy millimeter-wave scanning technology at U.S. mass transportation hubs and special events . Last week, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard EPIC's case to suspend the use of all full body scanners at U.S. airports. EPIC argues the machines are "invasive, unlawful, and ineffective." There are currently about 500 full body scanners deployed at 78 U.S. airports , TSA Press Secretary Nicholas Kimball told Security Management last month.
On Wednesday, a House subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on full body scanners . According to Ali Ahmad, deputy press secretary for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the hearing "will examine issues associated with the use of imaging technology, including effectiveness, privacy concerns, and health risks."
Witnesses will include TSA officials, radiation experts, and full-body scanner opponents. One critic will be Alaska state legislator Sharon Cissna, who in late February refused to submit to an enhanced pat-down search after her prosthetic breast triggered an alarm after she went through a full-body scanner.
Even without Cissna's testimony, TSA officials testifying in front of the subcommittee could be in for a long day.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chair of the Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations holding the hearing, told USA Today last week that TSA's statement on backscatter radiation levels "sounds like an excuse rather than the real facts."
Chaffetz has been a vocal critic of full body scanners , introducing legislation in 2009 to prohibit the use of the controversial technology for primary screening.
♦ Backscatter X-ray scan by TSA