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Aviation securityEurope bans the use of backscatter body scanners

Published 21 November 2011

In its approval of full body scanners for use at airports last week, the European Union banned the use of scanners that relied on backscatter radiation due to safety concerns; these types of scanners are widely used in the United States and have been source of sharp criticism, yet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has continued to insist that they are safe

In its approval of full body scanners for use at airports last week, the European Union banned the use of scanners that relied on backscatter radiation due to safety concerns.

These types of scanners are widely used in the United States and have been source of sharp criticism, yet the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has continued to insist that they are safe.

Backscatter body scanners emit a low dose of radiation, like an x-ray machine, to scan a person’s body for any contraband items. Federal security officials say that the technology is entirely safe as the radiation emitted is the same amount an individual receives during two minutes of flying.

The amount of radiation may be low, but safety advocates insist that the machines are dangerous as several studies have shown that a small number of cancer cases could result from scanning millions of passengers each year.

Critics say even a slight chance of cancer is too dangerous and the machines should not be used. Instead they advocate for the use of millimeter wave full body scanners which do not emit radiation.

In its decision to ban backscatter full body scanners, the European Commission (EC) did not cite any specific health risks but did note that its decision was to made to avoid “jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

The EC only banned scanners that used x-ray technologies and will allow “all other technologies, such as that used for mobiles phones and others” so long as “they comply with EU security standards.”