X-Ray Scanner Vans Not Just Being Sold To Law Enforcement

from the who's-scanning-whom? dept

A few months back, we wrote about how the backscatter x-ray technology, which is now causing concern in airports for effectively showing the “naked” you to TSA staffers, was also being used in vans by law enforcement. They could drive around and see scans of what was in cars and buildings around them.

We noted at the time that 500 of these had been sold, mostly in war zones, but noted some were in use in the US. Now, there’s a report that looks more deeply at the vans and the controversy surrounding them and notes that the company that makes them also appears to sell them to private individuals. Most of the reports of sales are to various government agencies, but as you dig deeper, the sales become more vague:

Other releases are more vague, however, identifying the purchasers only as “the U.S government,” a “Latin American customs agency,” an “international government agency,” “U.S. law enforcement officials,” a “South American government,” a “Middle Eastern country,” a “Middle Eastern government,” a “Middle East government agency,” a “Middle East law enforcement agency,” a “South American law enforcement agency,” a “new African customer,” a “European Union (EU) and an Asia Pacific (APAC) client,” and a “Middle Eastern customer.”

Defenders of the systems basically say that people shouldn’t be afraid of such things because they need to be used within the requirements of privacy laws (in the US, at least), but seem to ignore how the US government has been more or less ignoring the 4th Amendment pretty regularly lately. They also say that the technology isn’t good enough to really get the “naked scans” unless you’re right next to the van. Of course, since the vans are made up to look like ordinary vans, most people will have no idea if they’re standing right next to one. And, on top of that, you have to assume that the scanning technology is only going to improve over time, meaning that it will be able to get much more detailed scans from a much greater distance.

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Comments on “X-Ray Scanner Vans Not Just Being Sold To Law Enforcement”

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Marcus Carab (profile) says:

This really underscores how thin the line is when it comes to expectations of privacy.

Naturally the idea of hidden scanner-vans makes me uncomfortable; and yet I have also argued many, many times that nobody should oppose efforts like Street View because they don’t reveal anything that isn’t publicly visible.

Now obviously things inside your clothes or car aren’t “public” – to the naked eye. So perhaps the expectation of privacy applies to those things which are detectable by basic human sensory apparatus – but that raises new questions. What if someone eavesdrops on you in the park with a parabolic microphone? Or what if someone at the next table in a restaurant simply turns up their normal medical hearing aid so they can listen in? What about polarized sunglass lenses that can see through certain types of one-way glass?

Although backscatter technology seems to be obviously crossing the line, this is still a very tough question.

nickinseattle says:

Re: Cars as public areas

Great post. One thing that I would like to point out though is that in many states the government has already declared personal vehicles as public areas. Oregon is an anti 2nd Amnendment state. As a result of the Oregon governmen’s attempts to ban gun ownership carrying of loaded firearms is not allowed in public.The case was basically this. A person was pulled over with a loaded firearm in his vehicle, and charged with carrying a firearm in a public area. The courts upheld the conviction and personal vehicles became considered public areas under Oregon law. So with that said Oregon law enforcement would have no legal deterrent to cruise around and sacn at will.

darryl says:

Whats the problem with that ?

What are you complaining about ?

That these machines are being used in countries that are not in the US?

Or these people are buying these machine so they can take pictures of people naked ? (buy a porn mag, its cheaper).

Or what ?

Or that other countries are concerned about border security as well, and are willing to use US technology to achieve that?

I dont agree to being exposed to x-rays unnessarily either but I am willing to put up with that, if I wish to travel where that is required. (just like getting needles for trips).

ALOT of people have died trying to get into other countries in trucks and such, its better they get caught with an X-Ray machine, than to die of suffercation in the back of a hot truck…

But I still dont get what you are complaining about ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whats the problem with that ?

I’m curious. Are you suggesting that you personally have no expectation of any privacy of any kind?
The tone of your post suggests you do not see a privacy issue at all in this. If I’m mistaken on that, where are the lines you would draw then? What do you consider an invasion of privacy?

Or were you just trolling?

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Whats the problem with that ?

Let me point out something to you.

I have a programmable pacemaker stuck in my chest that repeated shots of x-rays will (a) wipe out the programming and (b) eventually destroy the chips.

OK, so, if I want to cross the border from Canada into the United States, which I regularly do, I expect to subjected to x-rays and have been for years.

By land I don’t get to say “please hand scan me” as I do at an air or sea port so I just grin and bear it. By land that’s not really an option.

Still, I know the power of the scan, thanks to the US Consulate, and it’s a low risk.

Then again, private security agencies, individuals, employers and others get their hands on this I find myself getting increasingly worried.

And, has been noted, what can be used for legitimate security concerns at border points, can also be used by baddies for other things as has been noted.

And, remember, that the scan strength can be increased at will by whoever controls the device.

As for your people in the back of a hot truck in the Arizona desert what in heaven makes you think that truck has actually cross a border point port of entry?

Lin says:

Re: Whats the problem with that ?

It’s just one more step to total loss of Freedom under the Constitution, ie, 4th Amendment. If we continually give way to the Gov’t’s trample of our Freedom, then how do we get it back when it’s all gone? It’s good to disagree with those in power when we are being treated like criminals before we have done anything. And patting down children and taking pix of them nude or not? Come on! Where does this all end? There is a real problem here and that is our Freedoms are fast being taken away. WE are not the problem here in the USA. It is those from Arab countries who are the terrorists…. not American citizens. Get real!

This stuff is coming from those in Congress who benefit from the manufacturing of such machines. There is always a trail right back to Congress who have always benefited from products made in their states. Think about it. Research where some things are made and who is pushing them through CONGRESS!

jason (profile) says:

Re: Whats the problem with that ?

I think it boils down to the fact how far will the government go to destroy our freedoms? In this particular case the 4th amendment. My feeling is it?s destroying our right to privacy but it has not been the first time and probably the last. Bottom line is it is unconstitutional, much like so many other things that have happened in the last 5-10 years (as well as throughout our history).

When will it stop? I should say I don’t fly much but if I did I would go through the obscene testing (not the X-Ray screen for health fears, but the ?frisking?), but I am a man and generally women have more of a problem than men with this type of intrusiveness. However it is a violation of our rights for both sexes. If I went into a bar and did that to a woman there is no telling what would happen to me.

Finally why is America so arrogant that the extremists trying to kill Americans and destroy this (once great) country won’t see this footage and simply think of a plan that does not involve planes. Our government is so narrow minded (in case you were unaware). How many attacks on American buildings occurred using commercial airliners after 9/11? How many before? They don’t use the same technique each time; they will find a new way to commit terrorist acts and exploit our vulnerabilities. Thus this increased airline security is completely useless, as well as, being unconstitutional. The government needs to take the money wasted from this program and use it on things that will actually protect us. Closing the Mexican border is the first one that jumps to my mind, but we all know the libs won’t do that or they may lose votes amongst their constituents.

Of course that is just one man’s opinion and I could be way off base.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whats the problem with that ?

Are you insane? Are you oblivious to the recent invasions of privacy our government has been responsible for lately? This exact same excuse for “security” has led to violations of the 4th amendment like the “Patriot” Act and the porno-scanners at the airports. I do not want my privacy being invaded whatsoever. ‘Nuff said.

It’s time for our government’s policy of statism to end NOW.

AJ says:


Is there an app for that? Does anyone know if there is a patent on lead-based anti backskatter clothing? I see a whole new industry opening up …..

Were going to need to put together a legal team, a marketing team, some commercials…Scan your children before they leave for school laws for the lobbies to shove down our politicians throats .. some “think of the children” grand standing …… it’s going to be a busy year…

I would like nominate Joe as our legal … and Dark Helmet as our PR…. We could toss in Wierd Herald as our info/mis-info/propaganda rep….


Lin says:

Re: Hmmm

The most fun I have had all day was reading your comment. It was a breath of fresh air and so true. There is so much that can be done legally to stop this that no one know quite where to begin but for starters…. DO NOT FLYING! That will give ’em an eye-opener when sales plummet and planes sit on the tarmac for months, crews and pilots out of work and so on and so on….what fun!

Revelati says:

I can’t wait for the miniaturized sunglasses version of these. I’m sure that attendance to woman’s sporting events will skyrocket.

Seems as though technology keeps inching closer to the time scanners from “The Light Of Other Days” by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter.

I can only imagine that techno voyeurism will eventually become so profligate that we can do away with clothing altogether.

Bengie says:

Health affects

Accordant to Wikipedia(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_X-ray) The actual radiation from a full body scan at and airport is about 200 to 400 times less than the radiation from a 6 hour flight. I guess the higher up you go, the less protection you get from the atmosphere.

it would take ~110 scans to reach 1mrem which is considered “a negligible dose of radiation”. It would take 2,750 scans to reach the “safe” upper limit.

This tech has been studied for over 20 years already and they haven’t found any health side affects.

*Unfortunately* the above info is based on a typical scan. The FDA sets an upper limit high enough to cause 1 cancer death per ~200mil scans per year and some unknown more who get cancer but don’t die from it. My guess is no one working these scanners are going to care how high these things are set so long as they’re with in the limits.

ChurchHatesTucker (profile) says:

Re: Health affects

“My guess is no one working these scanners are going to care how high these things are set so long as they’re with in the limits.”

Even better, it’s a potential attack vector. Get some deep agents in the border agencies and fry anybody of import who passes through. Not enough to be immediately noticeable of course, but enough to significantly improve their odds of cancer in the next few years.

Anonymous Coward says:

So with one of these, a person could scan a high value target, finding locations of guards, obsticals, and other items of interest, just by sitting outside a building and pointing a van at it. Thus a nigh-guard route could be mapped out, without stepping foot in the building? And possibly find a room or two that is not patrolled? With a final check before entering, to make sure there is no wild card? … It seems like the evolution of this could be bad.

Lin says:

Re: These devices WILL be bad

WOW, you are right AC. This is bad. It is terrible when someone anyone can buy a device that can x-ray and home and see who is or isn’t home or whether there is a weapon in the home or a man to protect his family or NOT and then attack who is in the home. This could lead to home invasions on a new level. These things cannot be sold to just anyone. It scares the living pee out of me. God forbid…..we must fight this hard in Congress!

Gatewood Green (profile) says:

Obligatory nothing-to-hide references

If you are following the law you shouldn’t have anything to hide.

If you are doing what you should to be a physically fit normal human being you shouldn’t worry about being exposed and compared to others.

Everyone else deserves to be thrown in jail (threat to those of us who follow the law) or laughed at (go get a gym membership and eat healthy and save the rest of us some medical tax and insurance dollars).


TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Obligatory nothing-to-hide references

Nice try but privacy is a right not a privilege.

As is the right to unreasonable search and seizure. Part of the United States Constitution, part of Canada’s, in precedence part of the UK’s …. need I go on?

It’s not even that it’s the state that may be doing this it’s that private interests, be is a corporation or an individual who can get this equipment as well.

As for your notions of physical fitness and that we ought to all allow backscatter scans to show how fit and “beautiful” we are just because you’re an exhibitionist doesn’t mean we all are.

As for your “everyone” else statement the overflowing jails will be overflowing unless you want to build walls and watchtowers around a medium sized city in some part of the United States you don’t like much.

Of course, it could be you and it could be your city. Then again, you’ve never ever so much as even had a fantasy about doing anything illegal or dodgey have you?

Siburmax says:

Your missing the bigger picture

If a “Middle Eastern customer.” Is buying it. Don’t you think Mexican drug lords and the like are as well. Then they use them to design ways to better hide items from theses scanners and the ones used at US borders? The idea of the bad guys having one to train with is scarrier than getting scanned by a perv in a van with too much money.

out_of_the_blue says:

Absolutely, TtfnJohn: "privacy is a right".

What I’ll add for those not worried about the cancer risk, is that with one of these vans, you could be murdered without trace. How? — Easy. They scan a powerful beam, mechanically I assume by moving the X-ray tube. However, by knowing where your head is, even through a wall, the scanning can be stopped and give you a deadly dose. Untraceable in practical terms. Since shows up long after the actual event, it’s almost without risk of discovery. It’s been suggested that X-ray beams are one of the ways the CIA uses on public figures who fight the Establishment (are there any left?), seemed to be a lot with brain tumor or brain cancer there for a while, but the threat may be enough now.

Sure, pooh-pooh it, gullible conspiracy-deniers. But it’s technically possible, and there really are spies. That Russki in London a few years back was murdered with radiation, just different delivery method (probably would have been a mystery if smaller dose).

Simon Jester (profile) says:

Good for the goose...

Anything that is available to government should & must be made available to the people. No exceptions. Now if you have something you are responsible for the consequences of owning it, be it an xray van or a weapon. But to allow thing to the government which are withheld from the people just pushes us farther down the totalitarian road…

Keybored says:

Yes. very scary. worth repeating.

So with one of these, a person could scan a high value target, finding locations of guards, obsticals, and other items of interest, just by sitting outside a building and pointing a van at it. Thus a nigh-guard route could be mapped out, without stepping foot in the building? And possibly find a room or two that is not patrolled? With a final check before entering, to make sure there is no wild card? … It seems like the evolution of this could be bad.

Gregg L. DesElms (profile) says:


…these things involve the use of x-rays, right?

And x-rays accumulate in our bodies throughout our lives, hence the reason persons who work in radiology departments must wear lifetime badges which measure their accumulated rads and tell them when it has built-up to the point that they can’t take anymore without risking things like cancer, or flat-out radiation sickness… right?

If so, then, how is pointing one of these things at me on the street not assualt with a deadly weapon?

bert bonnabeaux (profile) says:

Frequent Travlers

I will not be subjected to additional x-rays or natural radiation when flying on airplanes at >30,000 plus feet. Regardless of my exposure to millirem per hour with fly time, the cumulative effect of both radiation in flight (not to mention sun spots)and x-rays would be to much to bare. I would have to seek alternative modes of transportation.

another concerned citizen says:

just say no

So people could use these to view houses and see if someone is not home and attack any vulnerable house, whether it be children or women inside. Great. Potential abusers of this technology will have every opportunity to see when you go to bed every night. Molesters and kidnappers already sneak into homes at night and steal children…and whatever else. Now they’ll know the exact way to their rooms and when they’re in bed, asleep! Rapists could see when their victims get in the shower. How is it that these make us “safer??” Oh, and I’ve already read one article (sorry I don’t have the source) where there was a suspicious suitcase sized object on a tripod next to a sidewalk in one city. When some concerned citizens called the authorities, it was revealed that it was one of these scanners that had been viewing passersby. (I’ll return with the source if I can find it again.)

What about rape & molestation victims (some of which I know)? This is assault, plain and simple, and it’s not fair to put them through the humiliation and trauma of being groped against their will.

I will not put my children through this, either. It goes against every mothering instinct I have to put my little girls through it, especially. What makes anyone think that “government employees” can be trusted?? I was one and I’ve seen abuse of power of said employees. Abu Ghraib, anyone? Hellooo? What, “government employees” are all moral people and can be trusted? With nude pictures of us or anything else just on the basis that “they are a government employee??”

If you believe that, yeah, I’ve got some beachfront property in Nevada I’d love to sell ya.





anomo says:

i just left a store and i saw a black van with the letters X-ray mobile with DiT-RAD on top window seem to be covered with a design dark like the van but i saw someone in the driver seat with what look like a small camera i didn’t pay attention to his face but until i realized my girlfriend was waiting for me in the car asleep still and the van was parked next to my car . as soon as i got to the other side, the driver of the van took off immediately

Chill says:


SOCIAL ENGINEER THE MILITARY TO JOIN OUR REBELLION AGAINST FASCIST CORPORATIST INTERNATIONAL BANKERS AND SLIME THEY OWN WE THINK OF AS our GOVT..THEN WE NEUTRALIZE THEM.:)Permanently..:)must be millions of militias now..growing daily..now or never to start doing and stop talking..I hear chains rattling louder each day now..NAU..NWO..corruption not be believed..but better believe it..scum rule.

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