ⓘ Full body scanner


ⓘ Full body scanner

A full-body scanner is a device that detects objects on a persons body for security screening purposes, without physically removing clothes or making physical contact. Depending on the technology used, the operator may see an alternate-wavelength image of the persons naked body, or merely a cartoon-like representation of the person with an indicator showing where any suspicious items were detected. For privacy and security reasons, the display is generally not visible to other passengers, and in some cases is located in a separate room where the operator cannot see the face of the person being screened. Unlike metal detectors, full-body scanners can detect non-metal objects, which became an increasing concern after various airliner bombing attempts in the 2000s.

Starting in 2007, full-body scanners started supplementing metal detectors at airports and train stations in many countries.

Three distinct technologies have been used, though the use of Backscatter X-ray has now been discontinued in many countries:

  • Backscatter X-ray machines use low dose penetrating radiation for detecting suspicious metallic and non-metallic objects hidden under clothing or in shoes and in the cavities of the human body. There has been considerable debate with regard to how safe this technology is.
  • Millimeter wave scanners use non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation similar to that used by wireless data transmitters, in the Extremely High Frequency EHF radio band which is a lower frequency than visible light. The health risks posed by these machines are still being studied, and the evidence is mixed, though millimeter wave scanners do not generate ionizing radiation.
  • Through-body X-Ray security scanners that emit a high level of radiation have been supplied by the US to at least two African countries.

Passengers and advocates have objected to images of their naked bodies being displayed to screening agents or recorded by the government. Critics have called the imaging virtual strip searches without probable cause, and have suggested they are illegal and violate basic human rights. However, current technology is less intrusive and because of privacy issues most people are allowed to refuse this scan and opt for a traditional pat-down.


1. History US

The first full body security scanner was developed by Dr. Steven W Smith, who developed the Secure 1000 whole body scanner in 1992. He subsequently sold the device and associated patents to Rapiscan Systems, who now manufacture and distribute the device.

The first passive, non-radiating full body screening device was developed by Lockheed Martin through a sponsorship by the National Institute of Justice NIJs Office of Science and Technology and the United States Air Force Research Laboratory. Proof of concept was conducted in 1995 through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA. Rights to this technology were subsequently acquired by Brijot Imaging Systems, who further matured a commercial-grade product line and now manufacture, market and support the passive millimeter wave devices.

Safety aspects of the Secure 1000 have been investigated in the US by the Food and Drug Administration and National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements since the early 1990s.


2. Usage

Schiphol in the Netherlands was the first airport in the world to implement this device on a large scale after a test with flight personnel the previous year. On May 15, 2007 two of 17 purchased security scans were installed.

Full-body scanners was installed in at least one Florida courthouse in 2010 and have started to appear in courthouses around the US.

At least one New Jersey PATH train station used full-body scanners during a two-week trial in 2006.

As of September 3, 2014, Transportation Security Administration reported that there were almost 740 Millimeter Wave AIT Advanced Imaging Technology not, will not and the machines cannot store images of passengers at airports". However the TSA later disclosed, in a response to the house chair on homeland security, that its procurement of airport scanners requires manufacturers to include image storage and transmission features but that these features should be disabled before being placed in an airport. The TSA shows 45 individuals have the ability to turn these machines into test mode which enables recording images, but states that they would never do this on a production system. The US Marshal Service did operate a backscatter machine in a courthouse which records images. However, in a statement they noted that only individuals involved in a test were recorded. A sample of these images was received and disseminated by Gizmodo in 2010, using a Freedom Of Information Request. It is not clear if the US Marshal service has put these new scanning machines, that have recording capabilities, into production.

The analyst is in a different room and is not supposed to be able to see the person being scanned by the Backscatter X-Ray AIT, but is in contact with other officials who can halt the scanned person if anything suspicious shows up on the scan.

In the U.S. TSA currently uses Millimeter Wave AIT scanners exclusively, which show no identifying characteristics of the person being scanned. Instead, a generic outline of a person is used. As of December 2015, "While passengers may generally decline AIT screening in favor of physical screening, TSA may direct mandatory AIT screening for some passengers as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security."

The European Union currently allows member states to decide whether to implement full body scanners in their countries:

It is for each member state to decide to authorise the use of scanners in national airports. That will not change. But where this scanning technology is used it should be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as common safeguards to ensure compliance with EU health and fundamental rights provisions.

In Australia the Government has decided a no opt-out policy will be enforced in relation to screening at airports. Persons with medical or physical conditions that prevent them from undertaking a body scan will be offered alternative screening methods suitable to their circumstances. Infants and young children under 140 cm will not be selected to undergo a body scan. Body-scanners are being used at eight of Australia’s international airports – Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. So far only passengers exiting via international flights are affected. Domestic and international passengers departing Newcastle Port Stephens airport have been subject to body scanning since October 2019. Passengers who refuse a scan may be banned from flying. The scanners proposed to be used in Australia have shown a high rate of error in testing. Public outrage over the nude images created by the body scanners being collected by policy resulted in a lawsuit in 2010 to stop body scanning.

In Canada 24 airports currently have these scanners in use. "Passengers selected for a secondary search can choose between the full body scanner or a physical search."


2.1. Usage United Kingdom

Civil rights groups in Britain in 2010 argued that the body scanning of children contravened the law relating to child pornography.

Passive infra-red scanners have been developed for use in public spaces to collect and analyse natural heat radiation given off by the human body to detect both metallic and non-metallic "threat objects". No external radiation source is used and privacy is preserved as no body details are revealed. Police are conducting a trial of the equipment at London rail stations.


3.1. Controversies Privacy

Some argue that using a full-body scanner is equivalent to a strip search, and if used without probable cause violates basic human rights.

Full-body scanning allows screeners to see the surface of the skin under clothing, prosthetics including breast prostheses and prosthetic testicles, which may require a potentially embarrassing, physical inspection once detected. The scanners can also detect other medical equipment normally hidden, such as colostomy bags and catheters. The transgender community also has privacy concerns that body scanners could lead to their harassment.

In the UK, in 2010, the Equality and Human Rights Commission argued that full-body scanners were a risk to human rights and might be breaking the law.

A ruling of the European Council in 2013 required that persons analyzing the image shall be in a separate location and the image shall not be linked to the screened person.

In 2010 the National Human Rights Commission of Korea opposed the use of full-body scanners and recommended that they not be deployed at airports.

Opponents in the US argue that full body scanners and the new TSA patdowns are unconstitutional. A comprehensive student note came out in the Fall 2010 issue of the University of Denver Transportation Law Journal arguing that full-body scanners are unconstitutional in the United States because they are 1 too invasive and 2 not effective enough because the process is too inefficient.

On July 2, 2010, the Electronic Privacy Information Center EPIC filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of full-body scanners at airports in the United States:

EPIC argued that the federal agency has violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the Privacy Act, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and the Fourth Amendment. EPIC cited the invasive nature of the devices, the TSAs disregard of public opinion, and the impact on religious freedom.

EPIC claimed at that time that full-body scanners violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution because they subject citizens to a virtual strip search without any evidence of wrongdoing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in 2006, called the machines an invasion of privacy: "This doesnt only concern genitals but body size, body shape and other things like evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances or catheter tubes. These are very personal things that people have every right to keep private and personal, aside from the modesty consideration of not wanting to be naked."

In Idaho a bill was introduced in 2011 to prevent the use of full-body scanners as a primary screening method and allow people to request an alternative.

Travelers at U.S. airports have complained that when they opted not to be scanned, they were subjected to a new type of invasive pat-down that one traveler in 2010 described as "probing and pushing. in my genital area." Another traveler in the United States complained in 2010 that the TSA employee "inserted four fingers of both hands inside my trousers and ran his fingers all the way around my waist, his fingers extending at least 2–3 inches below my waistline."

As of December 15, 2015 the TSA published a new policy which required AIT to be "mandatory" for "some" passengers for "security reasons". However, most individuals in the US can still opt out of the scanner and choose a pat-down if they are uncomfortable going through the scanner. Individuals also have the right to be patted down in a private room and have it witnessed by a person of the individuals choice.

In November 2010, a female traveler who opted out of a full body scan at Fort Lauderdale International Airport claimed that TSA agents handcuffed her to a chair and ripped up her plane ticket when she asked questions about the new type of invasive pat down she was about to receive. In response, the TSA posted parts of the security camera footage on their blog, though there is no sound in the video and the passenger is not directly in the camera during most of the incident.

Wholebody imaging technology may not be used as the sole or primary method of screening persons, nor may it be used to screen any person unless another method of screening, such as metal detection, demonstrates cause for preventing such person from boarding an aircraft or entering a public facility or government building.

In the United States, in 2010 the TSA required that their full-body scanners "allow exporting of image data in real time", and cases of the governments storing of images have been confirmed.

In August 2010, it was reported that the United States Marshals Service saved thousands of images from a millimeter wave scanner. TSA – part of the Department of Homeland Security – reiterated that its own scanners do not save images and that the scanners do not have the capability to save images when they are installed in airports. However, these statements contradict the TSAs own Procurement Specs which specifically require that the machines have the ability to record and transmit images, even if those features might be initially turned off on delivery. Opponents have also expressed skepticism that if there were a successful terror attack that the machines could not save images for later inspection to find out what went wrong with the scans. On November 16, 2010, 100 of the stored 35.000 body scan images were leaked online and posted by Gizmodo.

In February 2012 airport employees in Lagos were allegedly discovered wandering away from a cubicle located in a hidden corner on the right side of the screening area to where the 3D full-body scanner monitors are located. At the Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport, TSA complaints have been reported to disproportionally stem from women who felt that they were singled out for repeated screening for the entertainment of male security officers.


3.2. Controversies Treatment of minorities

Current backscatter and millimeter wave scanners installed by the TSA are unable to screen adequately for security threats inside turbans, hijab, burqas, casts, prosthetics and loose clothing. This technology limitation of current scanners often requires these persons to undergo additional screening by hand or other methods and can cause additional delay or feelings of harassment.

According to a manufacturer of the machines, the next generation of backscatter scanners will be able to screen all types of clothing. These improved scanners have been designed to equalize the screening process for religious minorities.


3.3. Controversies Treatment of transgender people

Current machines installed by the TSA require agents in the US to designate each passenger as either male or female, after which the software compares the passengers body against a normative body of that sex. Transgender passengers have reported that full body scanners at several U.S. airports have falsely raised alarms based on their anatomy.


3.4. Controversies Health concerns

There have been health concerns relating to the use of full body scanning technology, especially the use of x-ray scanners. Currently Soter, unlike their counterparts Adami and Smiths Detection, can regulate radiation exposure up to 1.000 passes per person yearly still with a low dosage. Soter is widely used in prisons unlike Smith Detection or Adami.


3.5. Controversies Millimeter wave scanners

Currently adopted millimeter wave scanners operate in the millimeter or sub-terahertz band, using non-ionizing radiation, and have no proven adverse health effects, though no long term studies have been done. Thomas S. Tenforde, president of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, said in 2010 that millimeter wave scanners are probably within bounds technologies should be preferred for standard use. However, the European Commissions report provides no data substantiating the claim that "all other conditions are equal". One area where backscatter X-ray scanners can provide better performance than millimeter wave scanners, for example, is in the inspection of the shoes, groin and armpit regions of the body. The European Commission also recommended that alternate screening methods should be "used on pregnant women, babies, children and people with disabilities".

In the United States, Senator Susan Collins, Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee sent a letter on August 6, 2010 to the Secretary of Homeland Security and Administrator of the TSA, requesting that the TSA "have the Department’s Chief Medical Officer, working with independent experts, conduct a review of the health effects of their use for travelers, TSA employees, and airport and airline personnel." The TSA has completed this review.

The U.S. Government is also supplying higher-radiation through-body X-Ray machines to at least two African countries "for the purposes of airport security - the kind that can see through flesh, and which deliver real doses of radiation. The U.S supplied scanners have apparently been deployed at one airport in Ghana and four in Nigeria". which has caused some to question how far the U.S. Government intends to go with the technology.

Unions for airline pilots working for American Airlines and US Airways have urged pilots to avoid the full body scanners.


3.6. Controversies Child scanning

There is controversy over full-body scanners in some countries because the machines create images of virtual strip searches on persons under the age of 18 which may violate child pornography laws. In the UK, the scanners may be breaking the Protection of Children Act of 1978 by creating images or pseudo-images of nude children.

Parents have complained that their young children are being virtually strip searched, sometimes without their parents present.


3.7. Controversies Ineffectiveness

Some critics suggest that full-body scanner technology is ineffective for multiple reasons, including that they can easily be bypassed and a study published in the November 2010 edition of the Journal of Transportation Security suggested terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines and others like it employing the X-ray "backscatter" technique. A terrorist, the report found, could tape a thin film of explosives of about 15–20 centimeters in diameter to the stomach and walk through the machine undetected.

Terrorists have already evolved their tactics with the use of surgically implanted bombs or bombs hidden in body cavities.

In March 2012, scientist and blogger Jonathan Corbett demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the machines by publishing a viral video showing how he was able to get a metal box through backscatter x-ray and millimeter wave scanners in two US airports. In April 2012, Corbett released a second video interviewing a TSA screener, who described firearms and simulated explosives passing through the scanners during internal testing and training. In another test of the full-body scanners, the machines failed to detect bomb parts hidden around a persons body. And in a different test in 2011, an undercover TSA agent was able to carry a handgun through full body scanners multiple times without the weapon being detected. However, fault was not that of the machine, but the TSA Agent who was in charge of viewing the scanned images was simply not paying attention.

Furthermore, an Israeli airport security expert, Rafi Sela, who helped design security at Ben Gurion International Airport, has said: "I dont know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. Thats why we havent put them in our airport."

Again, despite the scanners, the TSA has been unable to stop weapons like box cutters and pistols from being carried onto airplanes.

The Australia government has been challenged over the effectiveness and cost of full body scanners by public media to which Australian Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has said he "makes no apologies" for mandating the installation of full body scanners at Australian airports.

Two alternatives that have been argued for by experts, such as Prof Chris Mayhew from Birmingham University, are chemical-based scanners and bomb-sniffing dogs. Others have argued that passenger profiling, as done by Israeli airport security, should replace full body scanners and patdowns.


3.8. Controversies US Public opinion

A Gallup poll given just after the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt suggested that 78% of American airline travelers approved of body scanners while 20% disapproved. 51% indicated that they would have some level of discomfort with full-body scans, while 48% said they would not be uncomfortable with the idea. The poll was given in the context of the 2009 Christmas Day bombing attempt, and some opponents of full body scanners say that the explosives used in that bombing attempt would not have been detected by full-body scanners.

An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Associates and released November 22, 2010 found that 64 percent of Americans favored the full-body X-ray scanners, but that 50 percent think the "enhanced" pat-downs go too far; 37 percent felt so strongly. In addition the poll states opposition is lowest amongst those who fly less than once a year.

As of November 23, 2010 an online poll of 11.817 people on The Consumerist website, 59.41% said they would not fly as a result of the new scans. Additionally, as of November 23, 2010 a poll of MSNBC 8.500 online readers indicated 84.1% believe the new procedures would not increase travel safety. According to a CBS telephone poll of 1.137 people published in November 2010, 81% +/- 5% percent of those polled approved TSAs use of full-body scans.

There has been some debate about the safety of the scanners, however, the TSA argue that mmw scanners used emit no ionizing radiation.


3.9. Controversies Full-body scanner lobbyists

Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has been criticized for heavily promoting full-body scanners while not always fully disclosing that he is a lobbyist for one of the companies that makes the machines. Other full-body scanner lobbyists with Government connections include:

  • Kevin Patrick Kelly, "a former top staffer to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who sits on the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee"
  • Former Senator Al DAmato
  • former TSA deputy administration Tom Blank
  • former assistant administrator for policy at the TSA, Chad Wolf


3.10. Controversies TSAs expansion of scanning program

Forbes magazine reported, in March 2011, that:

Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.

and that the TSA had research proposals to:

bring full-body scanners to train stations, mass transit, and public events. Contracts included in the EPIC release showed plans to develop long-range scans that could assess what a subject carried from 30 feet away, along with studies that involved systems for x-ray scanners mounted in vans and "covert" scans of pedestrians.


3.11. Controversies "No nudity" full-body scanner

New software for scanners has been applied by US Aviation Security so that the scanner will not show a nude image to the operator, but only a featureless male or female figure. Opponents of full body scanners still consider this an unconstitutional strip search, because even though the operator sees only an edited version of the image, a naked image is still captured by the machine, and there is no guarantee the Government or a private company wont store it in the case that a terrorist attack were successful.

This type of software has been applied at Washington, Atlanta and Las Vegas airports.

"Our top priority is the safety of the traveling public, and TSA constantly strives to explore and implement new technologies that enhance security and strengthen privacy protections for the traveling public," TSA Administrator John Pistole stated. "This software upgrade enables us to continue providing a high level of security through advanced imaging technology screening, while improving the passenger experience at checkpoints."


4. Technical countermeasures

Some people wish to address privacy and health problems that might be associated with a backscatter scan. One company sells underwear that is said to provide X-ray absorption equivalent to 0.5 mm of lead. Another product, Flying Pasties, is "designed to obscure the most private parts of the human body when entering full body airport scanners", but it claims no protection from X-rays.