Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Invasive and unhealthy: TSA Admits Bungling of Airport Body-Scanner Radiation Tests

The Transportation Security Administration is re-analyzing the radiation levels of X-ray body scanners installed in airports nationwide, after testing produced dramatically higher-than-expected results.

The TSA, which has deployed at least 500 body scanners to at least 78 airports, said Tuesday the machines meet all safety standards and would remain in operation despite a “calculation error” in safety studies. The flawed results showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

At least one flier group, the Association for Airline Passenger Rights, is urging the government to stop using the $180,000 machines that produce a virtual-nude image of the body until new tests are concluded in May.

“Airline passengers have enough concerns about flying — including numerous ones about how TSA conducts its haphazard security screenings — so it is TSA’s responsibility to ensure passengers are not being exposed to unhealthy amounts of radiation,” Brandon Macsata, executive director of the group, said in a statement.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has been a loud voice opposing the machines. Last week, it urged a federal appeals court to stop using them until further health studies were conducted. Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director, is expected to tell the same thing to a congressional panel Wednesday.

“The agency should have conducted a public rule-making so that these risks could have been more carefully assessed,” (.pdf) according to a transcript of his expected testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (read more)