New Documents Raise More Questions About Safety Of TSA Scanners

from the of-course-they-do... dept

Last year, we noted that the TSA appeared to be misleading the public in stating that its new more intrusive scanners were safe. This didn't mean that the machines weren't safe -- but that the TSA was, at the very least, massively exaggerating the claims that they had scientific support to say that the machines definitely were safe. Earlier this year, there were further worries, when reports came out showing that some of the machines were giving off much more radiation than they were supposed to.

Now, EPIC, which is in an ongoing lawsuit to try to get these scanners banned, is claiming that via a FOIA request, they have new evidence that the TSA has been misleading people about the risks of the scanners. The documents show that Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano blatantly misrepresented a NIST study in a USA Today OpEd, to claim that the scanners were safe. NIST, however, quickly contacted DHS, saying that it was "concerned" about the piece misrepresenting what it had said:
  • NIST does not do product testing
  • NIST did not test AIT machines for safety
  • NIST measured the dose of a single machine and compared it against the standard
Apparently, NIST told DHS to stop misrepresenting its work, and suggested that if DHS agreed, then it wouldn't call for USA Today to run a correction on the piece.

Separately, another document shows that TSA employees in Boston raised serious concerns to officials, claiming that there was evidence of a "cancer cluster" among TSA agents in Boston. The union asked the TSA to provide agents with dosimeters that could be clipped onto uniforms in order to measure the radiation to make sure the machines were safe. Agents in Atlanta apparently also expressed concerns and asked for dosimeters. The TSA refused, noting that it was already running some tests, and the tests showed no radiation problems.

This document is receiving a lot of attention, but I don't find it quite as damning as most. People just claiming that they believe there's a heightened cancer risk is not really evidence or fact. It would be more interesting if there was actual data to support that, rather than just anecdotal evidence. Still, I think it's becoming increasingly clear that the TSA, at the very least, exaggerated the claims of how much scientific support there is that these machines are safe. That's the part that bugs me. They could easily allow for much more testing of the machines, but don't seem that interested in it, preferring instead to mislead the public, a la Napolitano interview.




Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    Designerfx (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 8:54am

    standard third party issue

    I've seen this a billion times.

    A neutral party (such as NIST), is asked to test a single product, and then the company who takes the results tells everyone the product is safe/certified/etc.

    Even if the single product results were 100% safe, they aren't representative of the product since NIST obviously cannot verify from a single test that every one of these scanners is the same as they one they tested OR, additionally, that it's even the same as far as "safety" is concerned.

    So I wouldn't consider this negligence, this is a: major budget cuts (single test is much cheaper than safety certification), and b: general idiocy.

    Why Napolitano would want to fight for the TSA anyway is the what I would like to know. It pretty much shows a general lack of willingness to improve or even look at an obviously screwed up process, aka a bad manager/bad employee.

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 8:59am

    They should scrap the machines and go back to checking the ticket (including the date) against the name of the passenger. This might help keep people off the plane that shouldn't be there. TSA should also carry your bags from the curb. This would give them something useful to do and could be used as a security measure. But then again, this makes too much sense.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/06/man-from-nigeria-flies-to-lax-without-valid- boarding-pass-and-identification.html

     

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  3.  
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    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:03am

    When I was flying out of vegas the other day I found myself infront of one of the new scanners. I told the guy no thanks Ill take a pat down. He said, "are you sure these are much faster." I still said "no." "Really? there is no reason you should not want to go through here." I said "I don't want to and I know I dont have to". He said, "you know its not radiation its more like sonar, nothing to be afraid of." I said "you are a liar, as a punishment you must heft my balls," and he did.

    Really when he said there was no radiation that I just gave him and incredulous look until he started to put new gloves on. 5 days in vegas had left me too mentally weak (its not that strong normally) to even understand the weight of his comment. But its nice to know that the TSA employees are either grossly misinformed or happy to lie to people with valid health concerns just so they don't heft to heft a coinpurse

     

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  4.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:14am

    Re:

    I have the same concerns, but as long as I'm forced to go through this nonsense, I choose to have fun w/it.

    This is why I'm getting my tshirt from a silkscreener that proudly proclaims on the chest:

    "I'm extremely gay for the TSA"

    Is there some law against moaning softly while being checked for scrotum-bombs?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:30am

    Re:

    That story is proof that actual security would help, and that security fails when humans fail. The flight attendants were suppose to head count before taking off, the gate people should have checked the boarding pass before he got on, it should have been checked at security, etc.

    There is no reason for this guy to be on the plane. He probably got there because Marcus and Dark Helmet were in line moaning to security about the machines and all that, making a fuss, and making is possible for this guy to get past the frustrated security people.

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Rekrul, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:34am

    Re: Re:

    Is there some law against moaning softly while being checked for scrotum-bombs?

    When they finish, make sure to ask them if they can do it just a little bit longer. :)

     

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  7.  
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    Rekrul, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:37am

    People just claiming that they believe there's a heightened cancer risk is not really evidence or fact.

    No, the evidence is the TSA refusing to have the machines tested or provide dosimeters for their employees. The only reason not to do so, is if they already know that the machines aren't safe.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: Re:

    And be sure to mention that it is the best you ever had... don't forget to ask "when can I see you again?"

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:40am

    Re: Re:

    I wear my jeans a little oversized so without my belt they started to slide off when he started the pat down. He asked me to hold them up, so at first I did. He started in back then moved around front and went down on his knees to check my ankles and I couldn't resist, I let those suckers drop. So he is on his knees in front of me with my boxers about an inch from his head and he looks up, we make eye contact and I wink.

    Now I am not a insecure guy to begin with and in the state I was in at the time I wouldnt have been embarrassed if he asked me to wear my cock like a wristwatch but this guy was not a happy camper. I made a few snide remarks as well and in retrospect I feel a little bad because I know this guy did not want to do this. But I definitely think that my lack of embarrassment in these situations means I should push the issue a bit. This guy didn't want to grope me to begin with and a few comments insinuating he is gay/i'm enjoying it certainly don't make him feel any better about what he is asked to do to make a living. Eventually maybe enough employees will complain/quit/strike that they can't fill these spots. Or they will fill them with guys who like touching balls which might get some conservative/religious/republican groups a little more involved in this issue.

    Imagine some uptight senator getting patted down by a guy in a pink shirt with a rainbow belt, a lisp, purple gloves with a unicorn logo and frosted tips who lifts his balls and says something like "Im not sure you can carry that package on, we might have to store it in the rear."

     

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  10.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:49am

    Re: Re: Re:

    "Imagine some uptight senator getting patted down by a guy in a pink shirt with a rainbow belt, a lisp, purple gloves with a unicorn logo and frosted tips who lifts his balls and says something like "Im not sure you can carry that package on, we might have to store it in the rear.""

    I...I just can't mark this funny enough....

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 9:52am

    Re: Re:

    What I have found to be more fun is to eat about half a dozen deviled eggs and drink a couple of cheap stale beers before going to the airport. When they touch you, moan softly and let loose the grossest, most horrifying gas you can possibly muster.

     

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  12.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:01am

    Re: Re:

    There is no reason for this guy to be on the plane. He probably got there because Marcus and Dark Helmet were in line moaning to security about the machines and all that, making a fuss, and making is possible for this guy to get past the frustrated security people.

    It's clear that we are going to have to punish all dissenters as terrorist sympathizers. Sometimes fascism is the only way to protect freedom.

    Bombings are not hostilities!
    Fascism is freedom!
    Copyright is knowledge!

     

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  13.  
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    Designerfx (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re:

    those work even better with mix and match.

    Fascism is not hostilities!
    Copyright is freedom!
    Bombings are knowledge!

     

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  14.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:06am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I was more interested to learn that me goofing around was sufficient to put large numbers of people at risk of fiery and very scary terrorist death.

    My power is growing....

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    TheStupidOne, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:39am

    My Last Trip

    They wanted me to go through the cancer box (new name for it, seems to fit now) and I said no thanks and I then chatted with the guy manning the metal detector for a bit. I said I didn't know if the machine was actually dangerous but didn't want to risk it. He said that he didn't blame me, said "Imagine how we feel" ... I just said that if I was in his shoes I'd be throwing a fit and probably quit if I didn't get at least a radiation badge. His response, I gotta make a living.

    I just feel bad for the TSA employees. It is an unskilled job so they can be replaced, and I'm pretty sure they are prevented from striking by law (correct me if I'm wrong)

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:44am

    We are the mice

    It would be more interesting if there was actual data to support that, rather than just anecdotal evidence.

    You know how you get data? You nuke a bunch of mice and see what happens. The sad fact is, we are the mice. So there will be no data for many, many years when it will be to late for much of us, the mice.

    Go back and search your other posts here, but I said it first, the medical community does not police themselves well with CAT scans after decades of use so there is no way in HELL the TSA is going to do it.

     

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  17.  
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    Overcast (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:44am

    The TSA has nothing to do with safety and everything to do with 'control'.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:47am

    Re: My Last Trip

    "I'm pretty sure they are prevented from striking by law (correct me if I'm wrong)"

    I was thinking the same thing but it appears not:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=tsa+strike&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:e n-US:official&client=firefox-a

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Since I was in Vegas I went with "If I knew I could get this for free here I would have saved a lot of money this trip." and "Sorry, I'm out of singles"

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Lord Binky, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 11:24am

    The TSA's ionizing radiation is safe, free range and green unlike other brands

    One person wearing a TLD near the machine for days would likely give a realistic view of the radiation dose the workers are exposed to, and give a true measurement. The numbers they use to claim the scanners are safe, are an apples to oranges comparison.

    When the desired radiation is intended to be absorbed within the skin, it is not the same as radiation exposure that goes through your body without being absorbed (like during the flight, otherwise if all radiation being equal, we'd wear lead clothing everywhere). It is just dishonest how they present the risks. And being "safe" does not mean there are risks, it just means the risks of the machine harming someone that's not the TSA are acceptable. Honestly I think it would be a simple conclusion that what I find an unacceptable risk for myself is a perfectly acceptable risk for a stranger to take. With that in mind, why should I trust them again?

     

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  21.  
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    Steven (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 11:29am

    How much is a dosimeter badge?

    I'd be willing to buy one for a TSA agent if they're not that expensive.

    Find some willing TSA agents, give them badges, record the results.

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:13pm

    Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    http://www.dosimeter.com/

    call for price is never a good sign

    but a google:shopping search for dosimeter gives prices between 200$ and a few thousand, I have no idea what price point you start to get into reliable/good ones.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    and I imagine testing for the badge/wand style ones is a couple hundred bucks too


    maybe I should start a kickstarter...

     

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  24.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    All hail our new dark overlord!!!

     

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  25.  
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    MindParadox (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:23pm

    Just means.....

    All this TSA crap just means that when I went to buy a new car, I made DAMN sure it had good gas mileage, is comfortable to drive, and isn't a pain in the butt on maintenance.

    From here on out, I drive. (actually, already drove a 4487 mile trip last month)

     

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  26.  
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    Jordan (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 12:44pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Right. Senators and other "special people" don't go through scanning.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    John Hedtke, Jun 30th, 2011 @ 1:01pm

    Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    I've got a bunch of the old Civil Defense Bendix pen-style dosimeters that I purchased from eBay for $.50 each. They work just fine. They're not very granular, measuring roentgens up to 200 (you just SO don't wanna get anywhere near that exposure), but movement of the needle for even a single unit would be visible and bad.

     

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  28.  
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    Jay (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 3:14pm

    Re: standard third party issue

    I believe it's pretty common knowledge that the former directer of DHS profits from each machine sold.

    You also have to add into this, TSA needs to look like it's doing something against terrorism. As time goes by, they make themselves more and more redundant with a lot of bureaucratic mistakes that are unnecessary on the taxpayer's dime. I doubt they'll go away but I'm sure if there were an oversight community that looked at the internal affairs of each federal bureacracy (say... the GAO) for accuracies and inaccuracies, we wouldn't need as much worry about the large disconnect between the leaders (Napolitano, Pistole, Morton) and the agents.

     

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  29.  
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    gorehound (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 4:06pm

    TSA where your job allows you to grope 90 year old woman and you also get to fondle lots of children.
    and for an extra bonus you will get irradiated.

     

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  30.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 4:53pm

    Cancer can take years

    I'm very wary of radiation exposure, and try to avoid it. I would prefer not to have to go through TSA scanners.

    But the x-ray body scanners haven't been used long enough to result in cancers in TSA employees, have they? It would seem to me that if there is a problem with exposure, it would likely have come from the luggage scanners, which have been used for years and, if not properly shielded, might have exposed people sitting next to them day-after-day, year-after-year.

     

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  31.  
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    Dave (profile), Jun 30th, 2011 @ 11:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    I did a Google for "Film badge dosimeter" and got many hits for services that charge $69 PER YEAR for dosimeters and development/reading services. Pretty cheap for personal safety.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 1:40am

    Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    I still have a couple of unused ones from when I worked at a nuke power plant.

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Hothmonster, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: How much is a dosimeter badge?

    Well that is reasonable. Question now is if we bought them and sent them to Boston would the employees be able to wear them or get fired for it.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    PC, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 11:01pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    "A little to the left...ohhh yeah, that's the spot...oh, oh, SAY MY NAME, BITCH!"

     

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  35.  
    identicon
    PC, Jul 1st, 2011 @ 11:04pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    [Imagine some uptight senator getting patted down by a guy in a pink shirt with a rainbow belt, a lisp, purple gloves with a unicorn logo and frosted tips who lifts his balls and says something like "Im not sure you can carry that package on, we might have to store it in the rear."]

    Actually, I'm pretty convinced that most uptight Senators are already living in the closet, so this would probably be a fantasy for them.

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    AnoTSO, Jul 10th, 2011 @ 4:17pm

    Re: Re:

    NOPE. I will be more than happy to moan back

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    AnonTSO, Jul 10th, 2011 @ 4:19pm

    Re: Re: My Last Trip

    actually we sign paperwork that pretty much boils down to, "if you strike, you are fired" same thing with the The air traffic controllers' strike of 1981.

    we can seek union representation, but officially if we strike we are fired.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    AnonTSO, Jul 10th, 2011 @ 4:22pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Right. Senators and other "special people" don't go through scanning"

    Wrong.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/21/rep-sharon-cissna-tsa-patdown_n_8258 51.html

    anyone who flies commercial aviation gets screened.

    If you are special enough to afford your own plane, then you dont get screened.

     

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  39.  
    identicon
    curious woman, Jul 13th, 2011 @ 11:55pm

    TSA scanners

    If those boarding "private planes" don't have to go through the TSA security measures, what's stopping someone from buying a plane and filling it with "friends" who are actually paying customers to avoid the law? Or a terrorist who wants to do the same?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Jul 14th, 2011 @ 12:17am

    Re: TSA scanners

    If those boarding "private planes" don't have to go through the TSA security measures, what's stopping someone from buying a plane and filling it with "friends" who are actually paying customers to avoid the law? Or a terrorist who wants to do the same?

    There are services selling seats on private planes, so it is being done now.

    As for terrorists on private planes, sure, they could do it, but they wouldn't be risking the lives of hundreds of people on the plane like they would with a commercial airliner. As for terrorists using private planes to blow up buildings rather than passengers, yes, it could be done, but it is one step removed from blowing up a plane full of people while trying to blow up a building.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    Dallas Document Scanning (profile), Dec 25th, 2011 @ 12:48am

    Scanning

    This scanning is such garbage.
    A big waste of money from a big bureaucratic government.
    They should stick to what works best...pat downs and profiling!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  42.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 6th, 2012 @ 9:40pm

    Re: Re: My Last Trip

    it would be stated in their union contract.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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