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Full Body Scanners in Airports

Reason for Full Body Scanners in Airports across the globe

For several decades now, Airlines have been grappling with the problem of hijackers. These criminals or fanatics use the threat to blow up an aeroplane with passengers and crew on board to make the authorities give in to their demands. 

Transport Security Administration

The job of the Transport Security Administration (TSA) is try to detect beforehand those passengers who carry explosives, dangerous chemicals, knives and guns by hiding those under their garments. But such checks may offend innocent passengers. Therefore, TSA has to walk on a tight rope.

Traditionally, full-body patting and metal detectors are used to detect dangerous hidden goods on a passenger’s body. But currently, full-body x-ray scanners are being increasingly used in Airports.

X-Ray Machines at Airport

Two types of full-body x-ray machines are used in Airports.

These are:

(a) The Millimetre Wave Scanner, and 

(b) The Backscatter X-ray Machine. 

 172 airports have full-body x-ray scanners at airports across the US.

In India, one Full-body x-ray scanner was scheduled to be installed in the IGIA, New Delhi. But due to disruption of work during the Covid 19 pandemic, the installation has been delayed for over two years.

A fierce debate continues regarding the usage of Full-body X-Ray Scanners between TSA and Passengers. While TSA wants these machines installed everywhere for more effective detection of prohibited / dangerous goods. But the passengers see it as a serious intrusion into their privacy.

When the entire body is being checked by a man on duty, a woman’s modesty may be compromised. Some opine that the machines are not fool-proof.

It is possible to fool the x-ray machines. Then why use them on all and sundry?

Some others express doubt that frequent exposure to the harmful x-ray may cause a person exposed to the risk of cancer.

In view of the above, the TSA has relented some grounds and allowed to offer the option to passengers to decide if they would like to go the full-body scanner or decline. But in this case, the passengers have to accept body-patting as an alternative.

In any case, TSA still reserves the right to de-board passengers who refuse to undergo a full-body scan. 

To take care of passengers’ privacy, TSA has put in place several preventive measures. First, it has been made impossible for anyone to save full-body images. This would prevent the illicit circulation of pictures of bare bodies by unscrupulous employees. Secondly, the person scanning the screen has been shifted to sit in a different room.

As a result, he cannot physically see the persons whose bodies he is observing. Also, the images have been focused more on detecting hidden items than showing the clear images of passengers’ faces.

Israel has always been the pioneer to find technological solutions to problems concerning security. They have invented a scanning machine which does not take x-ray images but detects explosives hidden in a passenger’s body.

All passengers are made to take a walk through an armour-plated room. If the machine detects anyone carrying any explosive, the machine automatically detonates the explosive on the spot. It goes without saying that the carrier also gets blown up in the process.

The action is swift and accurate. No one needs to fight a long-drawn legal battle to punish a terrorist. But is it a fool-proof machine? We doubt.

The points against the usage of these machines are:.

  1. If an explosive carrier is killed, the police lose the opportunity to find out his links leading to arrest of the mastermind.
  2. Suppose the explosive is stealthily planted in the baggage of an innocent passenger. In that case, he loses his life for no fault of his.
  3. The device may not be able to detect the entire range of explosives.
  4. A terrorist may carry the harmless components in his baggage. But after the security clearance, he can still assemble an explosive sitting in an airport terminal.
  5. If the explosive is powerful enough, it may also kill the airport employees and innocent passengers standing nearby.

Security is a continuous cat and mouse game. Whatever devices are invented to screen out hidden destructive devices, the terrorists would always be working overtime to invent methods to hoodwink such devices. Nothing can ever be hundred per cent fool-proof for all times.

Therefore, we should never let down our guards and remain alert. Security is everyone’s business because it affect everyone.


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