Airport Body Scanners Still Radiating Controversy

UPDATED: 11/16/10 8:48 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s perhaps one of the most unpopular parts of air travel these days: the security check point.

Many loath the scrutiny, CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports.

“The body scanners are way too much. It’s definitely overkill in my opinion,” passenger Anthony Towles says.

Towles says the process is invasive, and he’s also concerned about possible exposure to radiation.

“I go to the dentist if I have to take an X-ray. I go to my doctor if I have to take an X-ray. I don’t what to be exposed to anymore radiation,” he says.

Other airline travelers, and at least one major pilots association, object to images produced by the body scanners. Some call them the equivalent of a “virtual strip search.”

“I don’t know who’s looking at them, and know what they’re going to do with it,” Michelle Kim said.

But U.S. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano defends the use of the imagining technology.

“They in no way resemble electronic strip searches — all they do is ping in a private area away from the gate, with an image that is neither retained nor transmitted,” she said. “We built privacy screens into the machines, we built privacy concerns into the procedures when they were deployed.”

Napolitano and the TSA say the body scanners are an important safety layer that helps agents detect things like powders, liquids and gels which could be used in terrorist plots.

Some airline passengers say that’s enough for them to understand why the scanners are necessary.

“I don’t really see any problem with it as long as it’s keeping everybody safe,” passenger Mike Nolan said as he waited in the security checkpoint line.

A TSA spokesperson couldn’t provide the exact number of complaints they’ve received about the scanners since they were installed at O’Hare in March 2010. But he said 99 percent of passengers choose the body scanner over other screening methods, such as a pat down.

Even one of the nation’s most celebrated pilots, Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, detects the frustration over ramped-up security hassles.

The recently retired airline pilot successfully ditched his damage US Airways plane in the Hudson River last year.

He says pilots are already the last line of defense on a plane, so shouldn’t be subject to such thorough checks.

Airline pilot Patrick Smith recalled being stopped by security because he had a butter knife in a bag. He asked why he would need a butter knife if he were up to no good. He says such incidents illustrate the absurdities of security procedures.

(TM and © Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • Roberta Waker

    If we closed our borders to ILLEGAL immigration, we wouldn’t have to worry about extra airport security. Besides, terrorists get around these security measures so what good are they, except to invade the privacy of innocent passengers. There MUST be another way.

  • Doug

    Great bit on this story with Bill and Walter tonight. This “news and comment” thing seems to be working, even though it isn’t billed as such.

    How about a bomb-sniffing dog in the frisk booth? I’m sure they’re professionals and wouldn’t hump our leg. I think I speak for (at last count) 94% of guys when I suggest that even a dog hump would be better than a guy frisking a guy.

  • MegaBeth

    when we surrender our civil liberties in the name of “safety” we’re living in a police state.

  • MegaBeth

    teenager – I’ve had my nickname since the 80’s – get over it

  • Gerald Spencer

    If everyone must do this, including flight crews, then all TSA employees must do this on every single shift.; only fair, isn’t it? TSA is our weakest link.

  • Stuart Linderman

    While everyone is arguing about the invasive nature of full-body scans and its’ usefulness in overall security, there are a few points that seem to be missed.
    Low level of radiation notwithstanding, parading the flying population in front of these is a patently bad idea, for a whole variety of reasons.
    How many times in recent history do we have to suffer from a scientific or technological “whoops” before we get wise? Thalidomide, DDT, and the wholesale X-raying of the shoe buying public (remember the X-ray shoe-fitting “aids” that were popular in the 20s thru 50s?) are just three of the many times we found out, after some time, that the “perfectly safe” item/device/procedure was, in fact, killing us. And each time there was a parade of guys in white labcoats carrying clipboards and looking very scientific assuring us that everything was swell and any nay-sayers were reactionary morons.
    Full-body scanners make use a low level microwave radiation that SHOULD be safe. But interestingly, these devices produce a type of radiation that, in heavier doses, are known to kill cells and produce gene mutations. As a matter of history, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of incidents where a software bug (or occasional operator error) ended up zapping the patient (victim) with thousands of times higher doses than intended. (see THERAC-25).
    I should point out that medical-use microwave radiation is operated by medical professionals who undergo extensive training, and, perhaps more importantly, the equipment is kept in very strictly monitored maintenance states. So even with highly trained personnel using well-maintained equipment, mistakes happen. But it’s not these situations that bother me.
    It’s what we find out down the road that we should be worrying about. Again, thalidomide, DDT, shoe-fitters.
    Ponder, for a moment, these hypothetical possible headlines of the future:
    Early models of airport scanners faulty – can give lethal doses.
    Scanners not at safe as once reported.
    Cellphone use near airport scanners causes software glitch.
    Maintenance procedures of scanners proves inadequate.
    Low levels of microwave radiation not so low level.
    First trimester fetuses susceptible to microwave radiation.
    Certain nerve ailments worsened by airport scanning.
    Scanners turn frequent flyers into “frequent fryers”

  • stuart linderman

    For everyone who is buying into the” scan and fly safe” deal, do a GOOGLE on “THERAC-25”

    Machines that emit radiation fail in hospital settings with LOTS of maintenance – how do you think the TSA is going to care for them?

  • annief

    You should investigate which people are selected for this body scan procedure. I noticed that it seemed like they selected overweight passengers more often. This is known as profiling. So a fat American is a better terror suspect than people of the race and religion of most terrorists? Probably not, but fat people are used to being mistreated.

  • righttrack

    So take Amtrak instead – no body scans, no real searches, enjoy the scenery – slow down and see America !!!

  • Dan

    Perfect Job Well done!! I dont wat to get on a plane with that Guy .. He recorded His conversation and ran straight to the news.. He is the type of personality that would try to Sneak something on a plane to prove a point! That’s Foolish… I Do have ONE Question?? Which further violates you or is more detrimental to your health ?? A Pat down? or… EXPLODING in the Sky In A Large Aircraft during a War?? (Because people Afraid of X-rays) I have a pefectly good Solution.. We Can Have a “Special Flight” Just for for the 15% that dont want A security consious Policy at the Airport,, A Nice . No Security, Terrorist Friendly Flight with 85 % more leg room.. If I die of anything related to being ” Sexually Assaulted” During a Thorough weapons checking Pat Down at the airport .Then.It’s My Day to go!!… This is yet another time where we may reduce my security if we Politically Cater to the 15% dictating what the other 85% of Americans do ,,, I still look at Flying as a privelidge and a Luxury… FYI Before you turn forty years old, Find out what a Physical entails (You will feel like your flying the FREINDLY skies)…
    Notice that nobody says BRAVO SECURITY!! Thank you for keeping people who refuse to be checked off the Plane!! Bless You.and your Thankless Important Job,. I cant believe this is even a story,, Walk, take a bus, a train, a boat.or a bike I really dont care but PLEASE dont whine and Jeapardize my safety and security on an Aircraft (during a war) where Planes ALREADY blew up. I am sorry if i was forward But There are alot of thwarted attempts at terrorism llately and our security is important to me..

  • Lady "D"

    I LOVE Dan’s comment!……My sentiments exactly!…Everybody wants to go to HEAVEN, but nobody wants to DIE….can’t have it both ways!

  • Ann

    The trains and bus stations will be getting these scanners next.

    And the U.S. sold 2 scanners that use HIGHER RADIATION to Africa.

    Next will they be turning up the radiation knows on the U.S. scanners.

    There are enough respected professionals telling the truth about these scanners and how they might affect the breast, testicular and eye tissue that I can’t believe anyone with any common sense would willingly go through one.

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