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article imageAirport Security Calling for Body Scanners

By R. C. Camphausen     Dec 30, 2009 in Technology
In the wake of the recent terrorist incident on flight 253 originating in Amsterdam, the call for X-Ray, microwave and terahertz body scanners resume
Following the terrorist incident last week on a flight originating in Amsterdam, the Dutch airport authorities are now calling on the European Union to make passenger scanning a mandatory part of security measures.
In October 2008, when the security scanners were first proposed, they met with resistance not only from privacy watchdogs but also from EU Transport Commissioner, Antonio Tajani, who said that further testing would be required.
As the BBC reports, Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport already has 17 such scanners in use, yet passengers can choose to use or avoid them, being hand-searched instead. Neither search happened in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who was a transit passenger while on Schiphol.
Similar full body scanners are in use, see this article in USA Today for example, or are now called for at airports around the globe, including Germany where they are popularly known as Nude Scanners and widely regarded as an intrusive violation of privacy.
Apart from such privacy concerns, several publications also throw doubt on the general safety of such scanners for human health. Most of the scanners that can penetrate clothing and reveal the body (and possibly concealed items) work with so-called terahertz waves or TH-radiation.
Of these, the UK Health and Safety Executive states the following:
Relatively little appears to be known definitively about the possible health & safety implications of exposure to Terahertz radiation. A recent EU project aimed at examining this area (THZ-BRIDGE)4 concluded that:
- Under various exposure conditions no biological effects could be detected.
- However, under some specific conditions of exposure, an induction of genetoxicity was observed to occur in lymphocytes.
- Medical Imaging employing appropriate exposure parameters is probably unharmful at least for single exposures.
Not long ago, in In October 2009, Technology Review published the following concerning possible damage of human DNA from such terahertz radiation:
Alexandrov and co have created a model to investigate how THz fields interact with double-stranded DNA and what they've found is remarkable. They say that although the forces generated are tiny, resonant effects allow THz waves to unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication.
Terahertz waves do occur naturally in the environment, yet the question remains what the effects will be if human bodies are exposed to them in unnaturally high doses.
More about Airport security, Terahertz, Body scanners, Dna, Privacy
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