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Homeland "Security" Creep

January 15, 2012
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Homeland “Security” Creep
“Society will pay a huge price in cancer because of this” (“this” is TSA scans of cars at borders, and don’t think it’ll stop there). Declan McCullagh writes at CNET of the next place you may be ordered to go through radiation emitting scanners in the name of “security”:

Internal Homeland Security documents describing specifications for border-crossing scanners, which emit gamma or X-ray radiation to probe vehicles and their occupants, are raising new health and privacy concerns, CNET has learned.

Even though a public outcry has prompted Homeland Security to move away from adding X-ray machines to airports–it purchased 300 body scanners last year that used alternative technology instead–it appears to be embracing them at U.S.-Mexico land border crossings as an efficient way to detect drugs, currency, and explosives.

The Z Portal scanner in use at the San Ysidro, Calif., border crossing uses high energy X-ray radiation to probe the interior of vehicles. Homeland Security says it’s safe for humans, but some biophysicists disagree.

A 63-page set of specifications (PDF), heavily redacted, obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center through the Freedom of Information Act, says the scanners must “be based on X-Ray or gamma technology,” which use potentially dangerous ionizing radiation at high energies, and “shall be capable of scanning cars, SUVs, motorcycles and busses.”

“Society will pay a huge price in cancer because of this,” John Sedat, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco, told CNET. Sedat has raised concerns about the health risks of X-ray scanners, and the European Commission in November prohibited their use in European airports.

The specifications do not say how Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, will notify people crossing the border about the radiation emitted by the devices, how frequently the devices will be tested to ensure they’re operating properly, or whether travelers will be presented with a choice of declining the scan, which is an option at airport body scanners that use X-rays.

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  • Anonymous

    It is unethical in the extreme to subject humans to unnecessary ionizing radiation.  If it’s legal to search the vehicles, then open the vehicles and search them.  The same goes for the airport – if the TSA wants to see what’s under passengers’ clothes, then they should just make passengers strip down instead of shooting cancer-causing radiation at them.   What’s with this rage for aiming death rays at us?  Just do the search the old-fashioned way.  (Um, like, get a warrant.)

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