To Catch a Terrorist
Removing shoes, removing metal objects from pockets, and discarding drinks before entering an airplane have become commonplace. But recent terrorist activity has spurred airports to contemplate making the controversial full-body scanners a mandatory part of their security regime. These imaging devices have triggered public protest on the grounds that they pose significant health risks, are expensive but ineffectual, and violate the privacy of the passengers undergoing the scans. If these claims are valid, then these scanners are not worth the inconvenience they cause and should not be placed in airports, nor should passing through existing scanners be considered requisite for boarding a plane.
The two kinds of full-body scanners most commonly used are the backscatter and millimeter-wave models. The former utilizes low-frequency x-rays to scan through clothing for potential threats, while the latter employs radio waves for that purpose (“Views on Scanners”). Both of these radiation types can destroy or mutate human cells, if administered in significant amounts. Though the Mayo Clinic health physicist, Kelly Classic, assures travelers that the radiation doses are so low they pose virtually no health threats (Walker), the studies on the scanners and the effects of the waves they emit are still insufficient. In 2002, the National Council on Radiation admitted that the data gathered from their studies “could not ‘exclude the possibility of a fatal cancer attributable to radiation in a very large population of people exposed to very low doses of radiation’.” (qtd. in “Views on Scanners”) The radiation will be concentrated on the skin, and areas just below the skin, raising concerns about the effects of radiation on delicate organs, pregnant women, children, and those being treated for cancer (“Views on Scanners”).
The radiation only penetrates the outer layers of skin. Smugglers hide contraband in their body cavities, and if terrorists began to do the same, the full-body scanner would not identify explosives hidden in this manner(Israel ). Also, in a trial run, the “millimeter-wave scanner ‘picked up shrapnel and heavy wax and metal, but plastic, chemicals and liquids were missed.’ If a dangerous material is low-density, critics say, a body scanner may not be able to detect it” (“Views on Scanners”). As many of the components that make up improvised explosives are low density powders or liquids, overlooking them renders the scanners useless. The cost of one of these machines is a staggering $125000(Israel )....