In the post-9/11 world, we are told, security takes precedence over everything else. The Bill of Rights must give way so that the government can search our persons and belongings practically at will. Common sense must yield to ridiculous rules about how many ounces of shampoo we can take on an airplane. Now, according to a ProPublica report on airport X-ray scanners, even our health must take a back seat to the government’s security fetish.
The report, authored by Michael Grabell, shows that despite research suggesting that the scanners could cause “anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year [to] get cancer,” expert testimony stating that the machines could be dangerous, and European policies banning the use of the scanners, the Transportation Security Administration has proceeded to deploy about 250 X-ray, or “backscatter,” scanners in airports nationwide. What’s worse, the TSA has other, safer types of scanners, known as millimeter-wave scanners, that the agency says are as effective as the backscatter scanners; but it has chosen to continue deploying the backscatter scanners even though they could adversely affect the health of the flying public.
The backscatter scanners first came to the government’s attention in 1998, at which time the Food and Drug Administration convened a panel of radiation safety experts to evaluate them. “One after another,” writes Grabell, “the experts … raised questions about the machine because it violated a longstanding principle in radiation safety — that humans shouldn’t be X-rayed unless there is a medical benefit.” One panelist specifically stated that he was “concerned … with expanding this type of product for the traveling public” — it was already being used in prisons — because doing so “would take this thing to an entirely different level of public health risk.”
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