The TSA's full-body scanners have received plenty of attention for their privacy concerns, but that's not the only controversial aspect of the machines: some scientists have been worried about the dangers associated with the radiation they emit. Hopefully those concerns will soon be laid to rest, now that the agency has now agreed to commission an independent study to ensure that the machines don't place travelers and operators in harm's way. The study will focus on backscatters, which utilize ionizing radiation and were introduced in airports a few years ago.
Despite continued criticism, the TSA has maintained that they are safe and expose travelers to the same amount of radiation as two minutes of air travel, citing evaluations performed at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, the National Institute for Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. However, many of the machines were taken out of service and replaced with others utilizing faster (and safer) millimeter wave technology in October.
"This study will not address legal, cultural, or privacy implications of this technology."
It's worth noting that the TSA may not act on its promise, but an agency spokesman said "Administrator Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment," according to ProPublica. As the website points out, details on how the independent study will be carried out are still unclear, and it's possible that the National Academy of Sciences — which is expected to be awarded a contract for the investigation — will limit itself to re-examining old data. If you were hoping that the study would analyze more than just the safety concerns of the scanners, you'll be disappointed to hear that the contract notice explicitly states that "this study will not address legal, cultural, or privacy implications of this technology."
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