Privacy, radiation risks discussed
Friday, March 18, 2011 03:06 AM The Columbus Dispatch
Testifying before skeptical House members Wednesday, two TSA officials said imaging machines used for passenger screening have software that prevents the full-body images from being retained, stored or transmitted.
The officials, Robin Kane and Lee Kair, also said a single screening from a “backscatter” imaging machine produces radiation similar to a dose from about two minutes of flying at 30,000 feet.
The chairman of a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, said he isn’t convinced privacy is being protected.
“Nobody has to look at my grandmother naked to secure an airplane,” said Chaffetz, a frequent critic of the TSA.
A Columbia University radiology researcher, David Brenner, testified that despite a low individual risk, it’s possible that radiation from backscatter machines could cause cancer in 100 people a year.
Brenner, director of Columbia’s Center for Radiological Research, called the number “a best estimate,” but acknowledged “this number is quite uncertain.” He added that the cancer risk to each individual is as low as one in 10 million.
The TSA has installed two types of explosive-detecting machines that produce full body images: the “backscatter” that emits radiation and millimeter wave machines that do not. The agency says that with no concerns about radiation exposure, it uses both types to foster competition between manufacturers.
TSA also said it is testing a new type of imaging that will show only anomalies rather than a full body image.
Meanwhile, before the hearings took place, the TSA said it would voluntarily retest by the end of March all its backscatter scanners that are in use across the U.S. – including Port Columbus – “out of an abundance of caution.”
Columbus-based research firm Battelle is one of two companies that has been contracted to provide third-party oversight of TSA scanner testing. A spokesman said Battelle is expected to be involved with the retesting process.
Dispatch reporter Marla Matzer Rose contributed to this story.
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