EU Bans X-Ray Body Scanners

The European Union has banned X-ray full body scanners at airports. Millimeter wave scanners are allowed as long as they conform to privacy guidelines.

Under the new EU legislation the use of security scanners is only allowed in accordance with minimum conditions such as for example that: security scanners shall not store, retain, copy, print or retrieve images; any unauthorised access and use of the image is prohibited and shall be prevented; the human reviewer analysing the image shall be in a separate location and the image shall not be linked to the screened person and others. Passengers must be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place. In addition, passengers are given the right to opt out from a control with scanners and be subject to an alternative method of screening.

Article.

Posted on November 17, 2011 at 1:13 PM • 31 Comments

Comments

AlanSNovember 17, 2011 1:52 PM

"In order not to risk jeopardising citizens' health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorised methods for passenger screening at EU airports."

Does this mean they share the concerns of the UCSF professors (see http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/... and others? So much for FDA review.

Brian MNovember 17, 2011 3:55 PM

"... passengers are given the right to opt out ... "

I love the wording on that... We must be GIVEN our rights. Ultimately, this legislation seems to be doing the right thing for the wrong reasons, which doesn't really impress me.

kingsnakeNovember 17, 2011 4:45 PM

Sorry to be off-topic, but what happened to last Friday's squid thread? It was here earlier today. (I'd post in it, but being unable to find it ... *shrug*)

GeorgeNovember 17, 2011 4:53 PM

I guess the TSA administrator will have to rush over to Europe and give those insubordinate EU officials a good Pistole-whipping. Airport security around the world is supposed to be marching in perfect lock step with the TSA, and this kind of defiance is not acceptable. It's a particularly serious threat to Michael Chertoff's bonus if his company loses those expected sales.

Perhaps the TSA will need to give passengers from EU countries an extra-thorough pat down or other appropriate sanctions. Using helpless passengers as pawns is an effective tactic to bring disobedient foreign officials back into compliance, and entirely justified for classified National Security reasons.

I'm sure Blogger Bob is hard at work on an Official Response from the TSA that will put just the right spin on this unacceptable act of disobedience.

aikimarkNovember 17, 2011 6:06 PM

I traveled through a TSA checkpoint last Thursday and was told that the 'protocol for the day' was to remove our belts. They then expected us to raise both hands inside the body imaging scanner. WTF?!?

Rather than patting down the arm that was holding up my pants, a full pat-down was in order. WTF?!?

Where do I report such stupidity?

Dirk PraetNovember 17, 2011 6:24 PM

Meanwhile, in another part of the world

- Transportation security administration is putting off a safety study of the x-ray body scanners ( https://www.propublica.org/article/tsa-puts-off-safety-study-of-x-ray-body-scanners ).
- Police in stormtrooper outfits are clubbing, macing, gassing and even shooting unarmed protesters exercising their constitutional rights in towns all over the country.
- Politicians owned by corporations and lobbyists are trying to pass legislation that will effectively censor the internet as we know it today and beyond the borders of their own country (SOPA).
- Those same politicians are proposing a bill effectively bringing back internment for the first time since the McCarthy era (NDAA ; http://blog.amnestyusa.org/waronterror/... ).
- Judges can force corporations to hand over user data of foreign nationals and even members of parliament (Birgitta Jonsdottir ; Twitter).
- The DoJ can use secretive interpretations of a recently extended law to spy on pretty much everyone (Section 215 of Patriot Act).
- The president can have citizens living abroad terminated without formal accusations or trial (Anwar al-Awlaki).
- Spin doctors from the military-industrial complex are preparing the population for yet another war although the country has already accumulated 14 trillion dollars in debt. (Iran)
- Most of the press and other media are in the hands of about 3 companies.

The list goes on. And no, I am not referring to China, Syria, Yemen, Iran or some African banana republic.

Anonymous 1November 17, 2011 10:02 PM

It should of course be noted that claims that X-ray backscatter scanners cause cancer are based on a model which has not actually been shown to be correct (just assumed for the sake of regulations) and which may very well be wrong (it's actually about as likely that the X-ray scanners would actually reduce cancer rates as increase them).

It's also worth noting that almost every professional society of radiation safety specialists (called health physicists) specifically say that the kind of reasoning which calculates cancer cases from X-ray backscatter scanners may be bogus and at the very least needs to be taken with a large grain of salt (the ICRP even caution against using it).

There's no point in even bothering to do safety studies other than measuring how much radiation a passenger going through them would absorb along with what the staff working near them would get simply because the doses are too low to cause a measurable effect (i.e. if you actually do the study that some people want done the only answer you'll get out of it will support the null hypothesis).

Still good to see that type of scanner banned, but the reasons they are doing it are wrong (and the T-ray scanners should be required to be spectrometers and not do any imaging at all, not to mention that spectrometry would actually have a chance at working at what the scanners are sold to do (i.e. detecting bombs)).

Also I'd expect people to still be scared of the T-ray scanners, just as some people are scared of their mobile phone given them cancer while they hold it to their head while driving a car.

TomNovember 18, 2011 3:55 AM

@ Anonymous 1: "just as some people are scared of their mobile phone given them cancer while they hold it to their head while driving a car" Very well put!

Anonymous 1November 18, 2011 6:16 AM

Quoted by anony: "All models are wrong, but some are useful." --George Box

Not all models are equally wrong (some of them actually do approximate the truth).

Though limited application (i.e. ignoring pretty much any radiation that isn't artificial) of LNT has been very useful to certain people.

jdjeyb: I know you're just a lowlife spammer (and maybe not even human) who deserves a much higher dose than any pornoscanner will provide (I'm thinking at least ten Sieverts) but part of the argument against those scanners is that they basically don't work at preventing terrorists from bringing bombs onto planes (T-ray spectrometers probably would be useful at that though and without the privacy concerns).

AlanSNovember 18, 2011 7:46 AM

@Anonymous 1

If you read the letter at the link I provided (or the link Paul kindly corrected):

The argument isn't that the backscatter machines cause cancer. The argument is that there are reasons to be concerned and that there are insufficient studies to determine to make a reasoned judgement one way or the other. The claims that they are safe aren't supported by the available evidence.

AlanSNovember 18, 2011 7:50 AM

@Andromeda

The FDA isn't relevant to the European decision. My point was that they were approved for use in the US, if I remember correctly, because the FDA determined they were safe. The evidence on which they made this decision has been criticized. The FDA of course have a recent history of approving other drugs and devices that have later had to be withdrawn for safety reasons.

MarkHNovember 18, 2011 8:40 AM

@Anonymous 1:

If I understand correctly, any exposure to ionizing radiation (including X rays) poses a health risk. There is no known radiation threshold below which risk drops to zero. The risk may be arbitrarily small, and may be tiny compared to other health risks -- but not zero.

Those in medicine and academia who express concerns that the risk from the X ray scanners may be underestimated -- and they seem to include some very well-credentialed people -- argue that the health risk model used by the defenders of this technology is invalid.

I don't know whether X ray scanners pose a non-negligible health risk. Neither does anybody else.

The analogy to "mobile phone fear" fails crucially, because no one has identified any known mechanism by which radio waves trigger cancer, nor made measurements that show any significant correlation. With X rays, both the causation and the mechanism of cancer formation are far beyond doubt.

karrdeNovember 18, 2011 10:14 AM

@MarkH, Anonymous1:

I've been given some hearsay that the guys working near the backscatter X-Ray machines aren't allowed to wear radiation-detection badges.

Of course, I don't know what such badges attempt to measure.

(There is a standard model of ionizing-radiation-detection-badge used by the US Navy for all sailors on nuc-powered vessels. I think its purpose is to allow quick detection and localization of any leak of radiation.)

Does anyone else know anything about this? Is a TSA policy to forbid measurement of radiation exposure by their staff a good thing? Could it be a sign that someone knows the measurements would come out too high?

Or is this a tin-foil-hat conspiracy?

aramNovember 18, 2011 11:32 AM

I think the TSA doesn't want its employees wearing badges because that raise questions about whether the machines produced a lot of radiation, whether they ever malfunctioned, etc.

By the way, here is a good article about the government's evaluation of the machines:
http://www.propublica.org/article/...

Bruce PerryNovember 18, 2011 11:36 AM

As I understand the argument over the backscatter x-ray machine, critics are saying that the standard model for x-ray exposure has been applied. In this situation, the x-rays go right through the target. Critics would like to know if any effort has been made to determine if the backscatter x-rays affect the surfaces they're bouncing back from (eg. skin, eyes)

BTW, has the TSA gotten around to releasing their protocol for calibrating these machines? If not, how can anyone be reasonably assured that they are staying accurate enough to work as intended AND safe for the public.

Clive RobinsonNovember 18, 2011 11:38 AM

@ MarkH,

"If I understand correctly any exposure to ionizing any exposure to ionizing radiation (including X rays) poses a health risk. There is no known radiation threshold below which risk drops to zero. The risk may be arbitrarily small, and may be tiny compared to other health risks -- but not zero."

Err that would appear to not be the case if current studies in progress of "life living after Chernobyl" are to be believed. Contrary to what was expected the wild life in the area is positively thriving. And some people have got to the point of saying. that "we need to turn our WWII nuclear thinking on it's head" and some have even made the heretical statment that "it appears a little radiation is good for us".

LeeHammNovember 18, 2011 12:08 PM

I am surprised how few people still seem to opt out of the x-ray treatment in airports. Has anyone seen any numbers? I'm still given the 'troublemaker' attitude, when I opt out, but I think that is because it takes time and people out of the [thousands] standing around queue...

MarkHNovember 18, 2011 1:09 PM

@Clive:

Certainly, a little ionizing radiation is good for life. It keeps our planet warm and geologically active, and is an important mechanism for genetic mutation necessary to evolution.

It also damages cells, sometimes with catastrophic results.

I am aware of the wildlife situation in the Chernobyl area. Without doubt, the main reason the animals are thriving there, is that human activity is so greatly limited! This is no surprise. What is surprising, is that the wildlife seems so little affected by the radioactive contamination.

Here, it is very important to distinguish between individuals and populations. It seems certain that individuals are harmed or killed by radiation there, and in the midst of this populations are thriving.

I think that a reasonable case could be made, that if humanity suffered a few Fukushima-level accidents -- or even Chernobyl-level accidents -- each year, there would still be a huge and rapidly growing human population. As a thought experiment, imagine a plague that is much more lethal to people over 50, than to younger persons. Looking at the population afterwards, one might perhaps see that people on average are stronger, healthier, more vigorous, and perhaps with higher reproduction rates.

Individual health and population health aren't quite the same thing. There are still plenty of eugenicists who believe that culling of "the weak" would be a great benefit to humanity. I suppose the importance attached to individual health is primarily a matter of self-interest, and ethics.

Anonymous 1November 18, 2011 8:50 PM

AlanS:

If you read the letter at the link I provided (or the link Paul kindly corrected):
So four people have some concerns, yet the majority of people who actually work in radiation safety are apparently unconcerned about them?

MarkH:

If I understand correctly, any exposure to ionizing radiation (including X rays) poses a health risk. There is no known radiation threshold below which risk drops to zero. The risk may be arbitrarily small, and may be tiny compared to other health risks -- but not zero.
That is a hypothesis which has not actually been proven to be correct and for which there is much evidence against (people who live in areas of high background radiation do seem to live longer than similar socio-economic control groups in lower radiation areas).

MarkH:

The analogy to "mobile phone fear" fails crucially, because no one has identified any known mechanism by which radio waves trigger cancer, nor made measurements that show any significant correlation.
That was actually in reference to the T-ray scanners which don't use X-rays (and when used as spectrometers can actually get the benefits claimed from X-ray scanners without the privacy issues). I fully expect that T-ray scanners will get exactly the same sort of public fear that X-ray scanners seem to be getting.

MarkH:

With X rays, both the causation and the mechanism of cancer formation are far beyond doubt.
But we only have reliable evidence of it actually happening at high doses.

karrde:

I've been given some hearsay that the guys working near the backscatter X-Ray machines aren't allowed to wear radiation-detection badges.

Of course, I don't know what such badges attempt to measure.Most likely because they wouldn't know how to interpret the results.

karrde:

(There is a standard model of ionizing-radiation-detection-badge used by the US Navy for all sailors on nuc-powered vessels. I think its purpose is to allow quick detection and localization of any leak of radiation.)
Actually dosimeters are used to determine how much exposure a person has (used for finding out if they've exceeded a limit, self-reading ones can be useful in emergencies to determine when to leave any area), they have radiation alarms around the boat to detect any potential leak (from what I've heard they get more false alarms than actual radiation leaks).

karrde:

Does anyone else know anything about this? Is a TSA policy to forbid measurement of radiation exposure by their staff a good thing? Could it be a sign that someone knows the measurements would come out too high?

Or is this a tin-foil-hat conspiracy?It's probably just that any such measurements made by people who don't know what they are trying to measure would be nonsense.

Bruce Perry:

As I understand the argument over the backscatter x-ray machine, critics are saying that the standard model for x-ray exposure has been applied. In this situation, the x-rays go right through the target. Critics would like to know if any effort has been made to determine if the backscatter x-rays affect the surfaces they're bouncing back from (eg. skin, eyes)
Most of the dose would be concentrated in the outer layers of the skin which is mainly dead cells.

Bruce Perry:

BTW, has the TSA gotten around to releasing their protocol for calibrating these machines? If not, how can anyone be reasonably assured that they are staying accurate enough to work as intended AND safe for the public.
As long as power output and X-ray energy stays at pretty much at what they're designed to be there'd be no reason to worry (shouldn't present a problem to a competent engineer).

MarkH:

I think that a reasonable case could be made, that if humanity suffered a few Fukushima-level accidents -- or even Chernobyl-level accidents -- each year, there would still be a huge and rapidly growing human population.
Fukushima was in terms of public health impact basically a non-event (worst case is that the highest exposed workers have a few percent extra chance of getting cancer) with no member of the general public being exposed to anything which has actually been shown to be harmful (as opposed to merely assumed).

Even Chernobyl which actually did have public health consequences was pretty trivial compared to what the coal industry does every week. It is also worth noting that the public fear of radiation after Chernobyl actually caused more damage than the radiation released from Chernobyl (several thousand deaths is the highest estimate which doesn't contradict reality and it may well be less than one hundred (the only type of cancer in the general population that there was a detectable increase in was Thyroid, largely due to the Soviets not bothering to use their KI stockpiles), compared with what happens when people think radiation has damaged them and that there's no point wearing a condom or refraining from drinking alcohol during pregnancy that is relatively mild).

It's also worth noting that most areas around Chernobyl aren't actually very radioactive (and there are places with higher natural radiation levels where the people are just fine, Ramsar, Iran is the best such example).

MarkHNovember 19, 2011 1:52 AM

@Anonymous 1:

I have been following the debate concerning the linear vs. threshold hypotheses for decades. It remains unresolved. Biology being what it is, reality is probably far more subtle and complex than these simplistic models.

... for which there is much evidence against (people who live in areas of high background radiation do seem to live longer than similar socio-economic control groups in lower radiation areas)

Um, I don't think so (that there is "much evidence against" the non-threshold model). Such human population studies are extraordinarily tricky -- there are dozens of ways for them to go wrong. The "radiation hormesis" hypothesis might be valid, but I am not aware of any sound basis for it. In the same sense as the linear and threshold hypotheses, it is supported by a bunch of interesting speculative mechanisms and scattered suggestive data sets -- but miles away from being proven. Repeatable high-quality controlled animal studies might answer the hormesis question, but I doubt whether human population studies ever can.

But we only have reliable evidence of it actually happening at high doses.

This is usually true of carcinogens. Cancers occur so frequently, and from so many causes, that even if there is in fact a linear dose response, it is not feasible to measure at low doses.

As long as power output and X-ray energy stays at pretty much at what they're designed to be there'd be no reason to worry (shouldn't present a problem to a competent engineer).

I happen to be a competent engineer, who as a hobby studies design failure. Things that were designed to go right often fail in ways that fairly smart and conscientious people didn't foresee. In fact, many of Bruce's posts are about examples of such design failures.
_________________________________________________

I respect your right to expose yourself to as much ionizing radiation as you wish. I respect the EU for responding appropriately to a needless risk which might be small, or might be zero ... but which given the present state of scientific knowledge might be large enough to cause more harm than it is likely to prevent.

JardaNovember 20, 2011 7:05 AM

Lets also don't forget that ionizing radiation tends to have a cummulative effect. Frequent fliers have increassed chance to get a scanner induced cancer. Unless it is some environmental plot of some hidden forces in the American administration who intend to reduce polution by physical liquidation of frequent fliers who are causing more pollution then others...

AdrianNovember 21, 2011 7:05 AM

"... passengers are given the right to opt out ... "

I love this - I tried exercising this right at Heathrow. The response was, "You have the right to choose not to fly".

Anonymous 1November 21, 2011 7:57 AM

MarkH:

Repeatable high-quality controlled animal studies might answer the hormesis question, but I doubt whether human population studies ever can.
The best study on humans is probably the radon study by Bernard Cohen. Animal studies would be nice and could give us the large controlled samples we'd need (while most animals have higher radiation tolerance than humans, it's unlikely that completely different models would apply so if we see hormesis in lab rats it'd be reasonable to just lower the threshold a bit to extrapolate to humans).

Jarda:

Lets also don't forget that ionizing radiation tends to have a cummulative effect.
When it does have an effect that is, it doesn't appear likely that it would have a significant effect.

Jarda:

Frequent fliers have increassed chance to get a scanner induced cancer.
There is no evidence that those scanners could induce cancer (not that it'd be much of an effect anyway, especially not compared to what frequent fliers get exposed to on the plane).

Jarda:

Unless it is some environmental plot of some hidden forces in the American administration who intend to reduce polution by physical liquidation of frequent fliers who are causing more pollution then others...
Aviation is a relatively small part of our pollution problems, at the moment it's basically not worth worrying about when coal still dominates electricity production.

Adrian:

I love this - I tried exercising this right at Heathrow. The response was, "You have the right to choose not to fly".
That does beg the question as to whether there would have been any alternate transportation option.

JardaNovember 21, 2011 9:58 AM

@Anonymous:
"...it doesn't appear likely that it would have a significant effect."

Go for it and scan yoiurself. I think there are sufficient reasons to be concerned for which reasons I'd avoid X-rays scanners from far. One of them is that the effect of those machines were never studied with a radiation specialist at hand.

And yes, there's no evidence... yet. There were so many cases in the history we were told that things are perfectly safe and o no concern. DDT, freons, Thalidomide.... If the lack of hard evidence is sufficient for you to get scanned, it's yor choice.

As for the last part: Can you take a joke?

mooNovember 21, 2011 11:13 AM

@Adrian:

>The response was, "You have the right to choose not to fly".


It's particularly laughable because you've paid hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars for the flight, and if you "choose not to fly" you aren't going to get that back.

Its the same reason travellers everywhere have accepted the continuous erosion of their rights at airports over the last 10 years... standing up for their rights means being denied boarding and not being able to travel, loss of significant amount of sunk costs, etc.

Myself, I've just avoided most of the hassle by not travelling to or through the United States for the past 10 years. I'll continue avoiding their country until they come to their senses down there.

OmriNovember 21, 2011 12:01 PM

All this talk about the X-ray dosage misses the important consideration that this machine combines X-rays and software, and so there is the risk of a software bug causing an overdose. (Think "Therac 25.")

GeorgeNovember 21, 2011 1:16 PM

Then there's the proverbial elephant in the room: Does the proven security benefit of the scanners justify whatever (probably small) risk of harm to passengers' health the scanners pose?

To the TSA, the answer to that question is so obvious that they don't even see a need to order Blogger Bob to respond with "Thorough and comprehensive TSA internal evaluations have proved beyond any possible doubt that AIT scanners provide highly effective security enhancement at no risk whatsoever to passengers' health and safety, while protecting passenger privacy. The evaluation reports are all classified for National Security reasons, so you'll have to trust me on this. But for the overwhelming majority of passengers who appreciate the excellent job the highly trained professional TSA screeners do at keeping passengers safe every day, this definitive statement should put an end to any doubts about the safety and effectiveness of AIT. Anyone who still insists on aiding the enemy by making uninformed statments against the TSA always has the choice of not flying."

averrosNovember 26, 2011 12:24 AM

@Anonymous1:

"outer layer of skin is mostly dead cells" - yep, but the next layer of skin (which 10KeV scatter-able X-rays do penetrate) is full of rapidly dividing cells. Meaning that small single-cell damage which would be totally inconsequential in most other places in the body will have higher chances of becoming a cancer (that's why most cancers are skin cancers).

"bouncing off the skin" - X-rays do no "bounce", in fact even making them to reflect from steel mirrors is not trivial (modern X-ray mirrors use layered synthetic crystals). What happens is that the high-energy photons get absorbed (ionising the atoms in the process) and then re-emitted in all direction (that's where the "scattering" part comes in), with at least half of them ending up being scattered in the forward direction (i.e. into the body).

"small doses" - this is where my bullshitometer goes off the scale. Unless there is a secret alien technology from Area 53 which allows RapiScan to detect X-rays in the field at intensities four orders of magnitude smaller than sensors used in medical imaging (and which RapiScan is unwilling to disclose in patents and/or share with the medical field) there is no way the doses they claim can be correct. Scattered or not.

Given that there's more than a little hint of corruption being involved (check who pays Mr. Chertoff nowadays), any way of thinking which does not involve conspiracy to keep this incredibly useful life-saving technology (just imagine doctors being able to do routine whole-body CT scans prophylactically every few month) for "the elites" suggests the must simpler and straightforward explanation which matches other known red flags - that in the reality the doses and intensities used by the machines are much higher than claimed.

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