Invasion of the Body Scanners

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon
Mike Bassett Associate Editor

The news that a man tried to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day by igniting chemicals hidden in his underwear has officials across the globe rethinking the efficiency of airline security. One of the major considertaions under discussion for improvements is the use of full body scanners.

Dutch officials have announced that full body scanners will be used on passengers on all flights leaving Amsterdam for the U.S. Also, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has 40 devices in place around the U.S., has bought another 150 and say it plans to buy another 300.

The kinds of scanners that are being utilized for airport security fall into two categories—one is a millimeter wave scanner that directs radio waves over a body and produces a 3D image of the body by measuring the amount of energy reflected back. “Backscatter” scanners are low-level radiation machines that create 2D images.

Considering that we’ve recently seen a lot of media attention being paid to issues regarding scanning and patient safety (see the Cedars-Sinai CT radiation overexposure case and recent journal articles looking at the relationship between CT scans and cancer) concerns about installing these scanners are bound to transcend the problem of airport security and extend to the issue of passenger health.

According to press reports, European countries are divided about using full body scanners. According to MSNBC, the German government is waiting for three conditions to be satisfied before deploying the scanners—they will actually increase security, won’t harm individual rights and are not a health hazard.

Now the American College of Radiology (ACR) has weighed in on the issue.

Passengers flying across the country are exposed to more background radiation from the flight than from screening by either type of scanning device in question, according to the ACR. The college goes on to reference a report from the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurement that found that a traveler would need to experience 2,500 backscatter scans per year to reach what is classified as a Negligible Individual Dose—a conclusion the ACR agrees with.

So, it seems that giving TSA screeners a 3D visualization of a passenger’s body should not pose much of a radiation exposure risk for said passenger. Of course, the privacy implications of seeing your body displayed in 3D in order for a stranger to scrutininze it are another matter entirely.

If you or your group is interested in finding out more about the capabilities of advanced visualization technology, and how it can extend and expand the reach of diagnostic imaging service lines, head over to our Healthcare TechGuide and check out the variety of systems offered there.

Lastly, if you have a comment or report to share about how the utilization of advanced visualization technology is changing your practice, please contact me at the address below. I look forward to hearing from you

Michael Bassett, Associate Editor