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When we got to the scanner, I opted out. Then they opted out. (izs.me)
422 points by Rickasaurus on Nov 16, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 184 comments

A positive spin on this idiotic story, nicely done. Activism need not be violent nor do people need to be yelled at or talked down to.

I still firmly believe that any TSA employee who doesn't want to be a part of this should refuse to, just as any traveller should refuse to go through the machine. But, there need not be drama. In fact, I'd say that refusal without drama and in public has a more powerful effect than any verbal argument might.

> Activism need not be violent nor do people need to be yelled at or talked down to.

The lack of self-righteousness in the story was extremely refreshing.

As the author said: "Information, properly delivered, is power." Emphasis mine.

Yes. The article also shows the power of wearing Vibram FiveFingers.

Just curious, does anyone have some hard evidence that the MWBS is a cancer risk?

I ask this simply because anti-X activists have pushed junk science claims of the form "X causes CANCER" many times [1], so I'm a little dubious. I don't think fighting civil liberties violations with junk science is a useful tactic, if that is indeed what is happening here.

[1] For example, feminists pushed the "silicone gel implants cause breast cancer", anti-bioscience types push "GMO foods cause cancer". Drug warriors have pushed "pot causes cancer" and anti-abortion crusaders pushed "abortion causes cancer".

does anyone have some hard evidence that the MWBS is a cancer risk?

Ordinarily I'd (enthusiastically) go along with the standard that this implies: until proven otherwise, you ought to be able to do what you want with your body (and maybe even after it's proven unhealthy).

This situation is different. Because the crucial element of personal choice has been removed, the burden of proof must shift 180 degrees. It is incumbent on those forcing the test on us to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there's no danger involved. And when there may be dangers (as with the woman in the OP who had been told to avoid X-rays), it's also responsibility of the authorities to provide work-arounds.

EDIT: fixed "healthy" in 1st para to "unhealthy" -- oops.

There's a letter here from a group of X-ray imaging and cancer experts recommending further study: http://www.scribd.com/doc/35498347/UCSF-letter-to-Holdren-co...

I'm no expert, but I have a basic understanding of radiation physics. And this letter reads like FUD:

The majority of their energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying tissue.Thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high.

This statement is very shady. When a photon interacts with a cell, it has a certain (small) probability of causing a carcinogenic mutation. The probability that the radiation is safe is (1-P)^N, where N is the number of interactions [1]. The fact that it is all deposited in the skin is irrelevant to leading order [2], this simply makes skin cancer more likely than breast or liver cancer.

I.e., if the dose in the form of a chest x-ray caused a 1e-9 chance of skin cancer and 1e-9 chance of breast cancer, it instead causes a 2e-9 chance of skin cancer with comparably reduced breast cancer risk.

[1] I'm ignoring high field (nonlinear) effects, since if the field were strong enough to cause them, it would probably also vaporize the person being scanned.

[2] It's actually a good thing since many skin cells are dead or will soon die, and thus carcinogenic mutations will harm them less.

"When a photon interacts with a cell, it has a certain (small) probability of causing a carcinogenic mutation."

I'm also no expert, but surely there is a risk of more significant, irreparable genetic damage accumulating if several photons interact with the same skin cell, as opposed to those same photons interacting with several different cells throughout the body?

>I'm no expert

Well they are, so perhaps we should give their word a bit more credibility than yours?

I'm not asking you to take my word for anything. My reasoning is laid out and explicit. If I made a flaw, point it out.

But I guess it's much easier to criticize me for being a mathematical physicist rather than a medical doctor. After all, finding flaws in an argument takes work!

edit: s/mwbs/bs/g; per comment below

Well, X-rays cause cancer. BS uses X-rays So it is a cancer risk. And it is a little more founded than someone randomly saying' this causes cancer'.

In terms of risk...

This says dental x-rays are about 2-3 mrem: http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/dental.htm

This says BS is about .006-.009 mrem: http://science.howstuffworks.com/innovation/backscatter.htm

Keep in mind that under certain models (the 'no-threshold model'), any amount of exposure (even a tiny amount) to an X-ray is a slight increase in the chance that that person will get cancer.

Now you might think that because dental x-rays are about 300 times more powerful than BS, dental x-rays have a much higher chance to cause cancer. Sure, individually, my chances of getting cancer from a BS are much lower than my chances of getting cancer from a dental x-ray. It is even higher from daily background radiation, or from the radiation that you get from flying in an airplane.

But everything is about context. How many people fly each day? 2 million or so? How many people do we propose to put through the BS machine? All of them? (I assume the intent is to eventually replace the metal detectors with these). If you are putting 2 million people through the BS each day, that is actually large amount of radiation exposure. Probabilistically, someone will get cancer from the BS.

There are certain types of radiation that you can avoid (x-raying your foot for fun! backscatter machines), and there are certain types of radiation that you cannot avoid (background cosmic).

I don't see how the argument that it is 'nothing' in comparison to other forms of radiation really stands up, in that I could potentially avoid backscatter radiation, whereas I couldn't conceivably avoid the other types.

(This doesn't take into account other real issues, like 'what if the machine breaks down and we start blasting people with focused beams of radiation'... while trained to run the machine, I doubt that the TSA people are trained to maintain the machine, or would even know if something had gone horribly wrong with it).

(This doesn't take into account other real issues, like 'what if the machine breaks down and we start blasting people with focused beams of radiation'...

What if my flashlight breaks down and I start blasting people with focused beams of laser light? What if my cell phone breaks down and the microwaves melt the brains of everyone within 6 feet of me?

I don't know a great deal about the engineering of MWBS, but I see no reason to believe that your fear is any more likely than mine. Most machines just don't work that way. Do you have evidence that MWBS is different?

The situation is analogous to what happens when a CT machine malfunctions. The basic design of a CT machine has an x-ray source on a rotating ring. The patient lays down on a table and the table is moved through the center of the ring at constant velocity for the duration of the scan. The overall motion of the x-ray source relative to the patient is helical. If the movement mechanism jams and the table stops moving, the pattern of motion collapses into a circle and the patient receives an excessive radiation dose focused in the region of the body that is in the center of the ring when the table stops. The received dose is a function of the time until the operator notices the malfunction and stops the scan.

With a backscatter x-ray system, the person stays motionless and the x-ray source moves. If the x-ray source stops moving, the person receives an excessive dose wherever the source happens to be pointing when it gets stuck. The dose received is, again, a function of how long it takes for the operator to notice the malfunction.

With a microwave backscatter system, the radiation used is in the RF range and, therefore, not ionizing. However, if the microwave source stops moving because of malfunction, a portion of the body experiences higher than normal SAR. If the SAR is high enough, significant localized heating may occur, causing burns on the person.

It is hard to think that a flashlight or cellphone would have a power supply strong enough to do that much damage. (Although actually, metal halide lamps can sometimes cause UV radiation burns if they are damaged... http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/158/4/372 ).

As long as the backscatter machine doesn't run on Double A's, my fears are actually more reasonable than yours.

The backscatter machine presumably uses some sort of electrical plug to connect to power. It isn't inconceivable that it could receive more power than intended and produce more x-rays, or that something could go wrong with the shielding allowing x-rays to leak, or that something could go wrong with the x-ray bulb and we could produce the wrong type of radiation.

And it doesn't have to be 'burning your head off' to be a problem, it could simple produce an order of magnitude or two more radiation than intended, and be a health risk.

My desk lamp also uses an electrical plug to connect to power. It isn't inconceivable that it could receive more power than intended and blind me! By the way, an order of magnitude or two more radiation than intended would be equivalent to a dental xray.

Look, I'm not saying your fear is physically impossible. I'm just saying I can't think of a very many machines (radiation sources or otherwise) for which anything similar is a plausible fear. Most machines simply stop working when used outside their operating parameters.

Also, do you really think that if the backscattering machine emitted the wrong type of radiation (x-rays of a different frequency), the TSA agent operating the scanner wouldn't notice when his screen went blank (unless the detectors simultaneously malfunctioned to pick up the incorrect frequency)?

And if it does, it's your responsibility.

Your desk lamp doesn't emit X-Rays, you don't force droves of people to stand underneath it, and no oncologists ever told me to be wary of your desk lamp until it has received further study.

So, yeah. Not the same thing. Not even remotely. In fact, your analogy is a bit silly.

Medical radiation machines have malfunctioned and killed people before: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/01/unforgivable_medic...

A laser scalpel (designed to deliver large radiation doses) can also kill someone if used improperly. Does this mean I should be afraid of a malfunctioning flashlight burning my head off?

Medical radiation machines deliver 45-80 Gy. The backscattered x-ray machine delivers 1e-7 Gy, if I've got my math right. That's roughly the difference between a punch and a nuclear bomb.

Please actually read about the Therac. It was not used improperly! Software errors combined with sloppy design caused the machine to malfunction under normal use conditions, delivering the wrong dose and/or wrong type of radiation, with victims perceiving flashes of light, feeling heat from the radiation, and dying.

Let me repeat: Therac is a radiation cannon, designed with the explicit purpose of killing cells. It's billions of times more powerful than an x-ray backscattering scanner.

The fact that a cell killing radiation cannon malfunctioned and killed someone does not imply that an illumination device billions of times weaker could do the same thing. Similarly, a laser scalpel will kill you if you shine it on the wrong place. A flashlight won't.

Many consumer radio-emitting devices can be configured to emit far greater power than their default. For example, hacked router firmwares enable one to boost the transmit power of their wireless router's radio to the point of burning itself out. As pointed out by another comment, the Therac gives an example of what can happen when software controls malfunction. Since these scanners aren't medical devices subject to FDA regulation, it's conceivable that hard-wired emission level safety systems were omitted in favor of a completely software-based system.

The burden of proof of safety lies with the TSA and scanner manufacturers.

It is not a theoretical concern: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Therac-25

Therac was designed to send a concentrated beam of radiation into somebody. That was the machine's purpose.

Are the scanners designed or even capable of doing the same?

You're playing the role of skeptic, but you're not going far enough. How would I actually answer that question? You could have said the same thing about the Therac; of course it can't blast that much radiation, there's no good reason for it. Yet, here we are.

What evidence do you have that it is actually not possible for the machines to dangerously malfunction, and how much confidence can actually be placed in it? Those telling us it is safe don't have entirely clean hands on the topic, they've lied about other things like picture retention policies and capabilities before.

You're making an appeal to incredulity. I would not actually be that incredulous to discover that the machines do indeed have some sort of flaw that would permit them to blast out more radiation than intended. After all, it's happened before. That said, I don't necessarily consider it likely, either, what I find far more problematic is that this is merely one consistent piece in a larger puzzle of unconcern about the real safety of the public.

For the same reasons we ought to be able to examine our voting machines, we ought to be able to examine these machines.

The Therac was designed to blast dangerous amounts of radiation. It had two modes of operation - "deadly radiation" and "VERY deadly radiation". A software bug caused it to go into "VERY deadly radiation" mode when it should have been only in "deadly radiation" mode.

A smaller radiation source, like that of an x-ray backscattering scanner, does not need to have a "deadly radiation" mode. And it's highly unlikely that a hardware failure can accidentally turn "10x weaker than chest x-ray" mode into "deadly radiation mode". The more likely failure mode will be something along the lines of "6x weaker than chest x-ray mode".

It's just highly unlikely that any device will accidentally emit millions to billions of times more energy than it was designed to.

Millions to billions, no, but would anybody notice if it never properly turned off? That would be in the thousands.

Again, not really worried about this, I'm more concerned by the blithe acceptance of the idea that nothing can possible go wrong.

Backscatter X-ray scanners use X-ray photons. Millimeter-wave scanners use far-infrared/microwave photons. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's every shown that microwaves or infrared light cause cancer: the photons just don't have enough energy to cause that kind of cell damage.

(Yes, this is quibbling about what was probably just an error in definition; I think your comments are right as applied to backscatter X-ray scanners. But if we keep our language straight, our arguments against these blasted things will be that much harder to dismiss.)

Yes, of course you are right, I was just looking at it from a perspective of the x-ray scanners. I have no idea about the microwave based scanners.

Here's the key idea: your cross-country flight exposes you to 2-5 mrem. MWBS is about 0.01 mrem. It's trivial.

the UCSF letter explains why this is not a valid comparison. the ambient radiation absorbed in flight and the radiation of the mwbs are not in the same part of the spectrum so they are not comparable using simple agregate statistics. the stopping power of your (or any) body is function of the energy of the incident radiation (or particle) and this not considered in the mrem comparison.

If you demand that human trials be done for every possible permutation of conceivable risk---throwing out as incomparable all data that is taken in even remotely different circumstances--then you can claim health risks about every single thing. And it's pretty much impossible to satisfy you because of the cost of human trials.

The concerns raised in the UCSF letter are strained beyond belief. Further, a number of points (like the breast-cancer bullet point) are clearly there to influence emotions rather than critical reasoning.

I'll just explain this one. As the UCSF letter states, the radiation is being deposited on a volume smaller than usual by a factor possibly as large as "one to two orders of magnitude". That means that at absolute worst this is like radiation dose of 1 mrem (still less than the flight tiny compared to your yearly dose), and that's assuming that all of the risk of cosmic radiation comes from skin cancer (which is wildly wrong).

i agree that demanding perfect testing is ridiculous in most scenarios, especially when talking about human trials. however, that's not what i'm suggesting should happen. i also don't deny that the UCSF letter has a sensationalist or alarmist tone. i'm not touting their concerns, just suggesting it as a place that explains the difference between cosmic xrays and the xrays in these scanners. i guess my point is that it's very easy to mislead people that have no appreciation for these very real differences. glossing over details and nuance that have not yet been proven insignificant, and doing so with the goal of making concerned people stop asking questions about their own safety- that's not cool. when it's our own government it's even less cool.

there are so many issues swirling around this subject- privacy, security, safety, fear, "terror"... i guess i'm just wanting the science of the safety to be completely objective, open, reviewed, failsafes and failure modes known... all that jazz. as a member of the public it seems like these things were just thrown out there. the tsa is covering their butt by doing whatever is possible, a few scanner manufacturers are having a good year, and we're just supposed to leave it like that, keep calm, carry on... i can't say that makes me feel great.

My general position is to avoid things that could conceivably cause cancer until hard evidence shows they don't rather than the reverse. X-rays could conceivably cause cancer.

You get a pretty decent radiation dose from flying around high in the atmosphere too. From what I have read the crossover point where you absorb more x-ray radiation in the flight than the scanners is about an hour and a half.

See here for a bunch of things to read (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_X-ray#Health_effect...). According to this page, 42 minutes of ordinary living is sufficient to give you a similar dose of ionizing radiation compared to the backscatter machines. It's certainly possible that the FDA is lying to us, but it seems more likely that these machines are indeed harmless. Sounds to me like the people saying "I avoid things until I'm sure they don't cause cancer" are throwing science to the wind and embracing a line of thought they wouldn't if they didn't already have some other reason for opposition.

Radiation is cumulative. Saying that you will absorb more radiation in flight is not a justification for accepting radiation from another source. You will still absorb more total radiation. It's a lot easier to avoid the scanner, than it is to find an alternate mode of transportation across long distances.

In one situation, large quantities of X cause no visible concern to people. In another situation, much smaller quantities of X cause serious outcry, even when no harmful effects from those smaller quantities have been demonstrated over twenty years of study.

I suppose it's possible for someone to be genuinely concerned over these very small quantities of radiation. But it strikes me that for the average person what underlies the panic is

1. a counter-factual belief that more health-harm is done by a new technology than actually is,

2. a diversionary appeal to concern for safety when health risks are not really a significant negative of a new technology.

This happens in all kinds of areas. Artificial sweeteners, GMO foods, irradiated meat products, and vaccines have all fought or are fighting this battle. The only reason this type of thinking is given a pass here or anywhere reasonable people congregate is because the community is so opposed to the technology for other reasons.

According to what I've read, the energy of the radiation prevents it from penetrating deeply (indeed, the Compton effect backscatter at the surface is the whole point of it).

This might sound like a good thing, but it also means that the radiation isn't "diluted" over the full mass of your body. The damaging effects will be localized to -- and concentrated within -- the skin and shallower tissues. So those organs affected are getting a dose that's disproportionately much higher than the guidelines for full-body dosage considers.

This argument betrays a lack of understanding of radiation physics.

Think of each cell in your body as a dice. When a cell is hit by radiation, the dice is rolled - you get cancer if any dice comes up 6 (these are billion-sided dice). The radiation dose is the number of dice rolls you need to make.

Now, under which circumstance is a roll of 6 more likely? If you roll 100 dice 1 time each (traditional x-ray), or 1 dice 100 times (backscattered xray)?

Smaller doses over time are safer than a large dose. Time to fix things up. Concentrating the radiation has a negative effect.

Edit: Maybe this is incorrect when it comes to cancer risk, but I had the impression it still mattered, with multiple impacts in the same area of DNA causing things to be more likely to permanently break. Unless that is extremely unlikely to happen at all at this level of dose.

Still, these machines are probably not particularly harmful.

When radiation causes a significant amount of cell death, yes. I.e., if you are going to have 2-3% of your cells killed (by heat, radiation, alchohol, whatever), it's better if it happens slowly over time than all at once.

Backscattered X-rays are not remotely near that point.

edit: Just want to respond to this: I had the impression it still mattered, with multiple impacts in the same area of DNA causing things to be more likely to permanently break.

This is called the multiphoton effect. It's real, but it's more important for radiation by low frequency radiation (e.g., cell phone microwaves). You can observe this in gases with high powered lasers or microwave resonating cavities. Weird things happen in this regime, such as stabilization (more radiation -> less ionization).

I suppose you could have molecular effects from multiple photons (e.g., one photon damages the DNA, a second damages the repair mechanism), but this is vanishingly unlikely at the doses we are discussing.

No, it's all about bit errors and error correction. Highly concentrated radiation is more likely to cause multiple errors to a particular DNA strand, which can defeat the error correction and cause a mutation.

The same radiation distributed through the body will cause fewer errors per strand and be corrected.

It's been a long time since I studied dosimetry, but I was under the impression this was only significant at high doses. Do you have evidence otherwise?

The key issue is the actual wavelength being used. I have yet to see this number published. If you knew the wavelength of the X-ray then you could attain a good estimate of the radiation dose. It is well established that X-rays cause protein damage (in vitro) at 1-1.5 Angstroms which is certainly smaller than what is being used in the is case. The wavelength at which radiation damage does not occur would be interesting to determine.

The US Federal Code of Regulations has a section defining acceptable radiation doses for radiation workers[1]. This section places an upper limit on the shallow dose to the skin of 50 rems. To get an equivalent shallow skin dose from a backscatter machine, you would need to go through it over five and a half million times. The limits for adult members of the public are 10% of the limits for radiation workers, which would cut it down to only about 500,000 times through.

To be fair, I haven't found any studies either way on the safety or danger of the 10 C.F.R. 20 limits, probably because very few people get close to hitting the dose limits. One study I found[2] that surveyed radiation workers in three different studies concluded that the relative risk for a sustained protracted dose of 10 Rems compared to no dose is 0.99 for cancer excluding leukemia, and 1.22 for leukemias. This means, as a radiation worker, you're somewhat less likely to get a non-leukemia cancer, and about 20% more likely to get leukemia. This is for a dose that is over a million times larger than what a backscatter machine will give you. Furthermore, these risk rates are lower than what would be expected from a linear estimate based on cancer rates in atomic bomb survivors, suggesting that smaller radiation doses are safer than larger ones, and the dose these machines give you is about 200-500 times smaller than the does you're going to get on the airplane (if you're flying cross-country).

I just wanted to put in perspective that the dosage these machines put out is extremely small when compared to the dosages you might normally receive, let alone the dosage which radiation workers commonly receive. Their health effects are minimal, and if they actually contributed to the safety of passengers, I'd say they'd absolutely be worth it. The real travesty here is that they violate privacy for no real gain, not that they are in any way a significant health risk.

[1]: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/cfr/part020/

[2]: http://www.jstor.org/pss/3579020 (JSTOR link. If you're not affiliated with an academic institution, you'll only be able to read the first page)

> Just curious, does anyone have some hard evidence that the MWBS is a cancer risk?

The eventual outcome of a policy of assuming things are not cancer risks until proven otherwise is cancer. It is much more sensible to assume a cancer risk until proven otherwise.

Don't forget cell phones, they cause cancer too.

You're not forced to use a cell phone in order to fly. The radiation from the phone is not concentrated and directed at your entire body. It's a different frequency and intensity. A lot more time has been spent studying the dangers of RF from consumer phones than the dangers of these new machines based on medical devices that require lead clothing or lead walls for safe use.

You're also exposed to a variety of radiation when you fly in the high atmosphere or eat a banana. It doesn't mean additional radiation from insufficiently tested machines is a good idea.

I could be wrong here, but I believe hfinney was referring to the footnote about how people claim "X causes cancer" because they're against X, not because of evidence. Opponents of cell phones/power lines have frequently claimed they cause cancer, thus making it another valid example for the footnote, because their claims are untrue.

Right, although the NY Times on Saturday claimed the jury is still out on cell phones:


OTOH apparently there is evidence that cell phones actually prevent cancer, so go figure.

Two interesting excerpts from the Backscatter X-ray wikipedia page:

The national radiation safety standard (see below) sets a dose per screening limit for the general-use category. To meet the requirements of the general-use category a full-body x-ray security system must deliver less than the dose a person receives during 4 minutes of airline flight. TSA has set their dose limit to ensure a person receives less radiation from one scan with a TSA general-use x-ray security system than from 2 minutes of airline flight.


Fathers exposed to medical diagnostic x-rays are more likely to have infants who contract leukemia, especially if exposure is closer to conception or includes two or more X-rays of the lower gastrointestinal (GI) tract or lower abdomen.[36] In medical radiography the x-ray beam is adjusted to expose only the area of which an image is required, so that generally shielding is applied to the patient to avoid exposing the gonads,[37] whereas in an airport backscatter scan, the testicles of men and boys will be deliberately subjected to the direct beam, and radiation will also reach the ovaries of female subjects. Whilst the overall dose averaged over the entire body is lower in a backscatter X-ray scan than in a typical medical X-ray examination, because of the shielding of the gonads used in medical radiography this in itself does not mean that the dose to the testicles would be less in an airport scan.

Good find, especially the second paragraph, thanks.

"No thanks, I’ve already had cancer, just feel me up or whatever."


I agree that having to choose between flying and getting groped/strip-scanned or not flying is ridiculous, and I'm happy that he and others were able to circumvent this.

But he says they were using Millimeter Wave Scanners, which as far as I can tell, and contrary to his argument, do not use x-rays. That letter refers to another type of machine, x-ray backscatter scanners.

Well, firstly, the fact that the TSA employee didn't challenge that statement tells me that either that employee isn't properly informed or he/she knows more than what is publicly known. I'm gonna go on a limb and say it's the former rather than latter.

Secondly, it shouldn't be a question of whether the machine is x-ray or millimeter wave. Both of those emit radiation and until there's definitive proof that one or both do not cause damage, they shouldn't be in use.

We actually have a very good idea how much damage x-rays and millimeter waves do to the human body, since we've been dealing with both technologically for many years.

Because x-rays are used in medical devices that have to be approved by the FDA, we've developed some very good ideas about what sort of doses are harmful and which aren't. The damage done by the x-ray scans used by the TSA do indeed produce damage, measured in Sieverts - a scale used by medical technicians, nuclear power plant operators, NASA, etc. Generally a dose of 1 Sievert all at once is enough to make you sick. Radiation expose is usually measured in milliSieverts and a person who doesn't do anything dangerous will usually receive a couple of milliSieverts a year just from the sun and the radioactive decay of things like the carbon in their body. Going through a TSA x-ray scanner will give you about a microSievert (or 1/1000 of a milliSievert) unless you do something like stop in the middle of the scanner and daydream. Because flying on a plane involves going higher with less atmospher to protect you from radiation from outer space, even short flights tend to cause you to rack up 10 microSieverts and longer flights will give you more. So even if you fly every day the excess dose you're getting from the machines is ignorable, and if you are flying every day its only increasing the amount of radiation you're getting by 10%.

As to millimeter waves, well, I'm not sure quite what mechanism they could possibly use to be dangerous, since they're less energetic than the visible light that we're exposed to every day. If you're inclined to worry about stuff like that, I'd recommend worrying more about fluorescent lights (where all the energy is concentrated in a few frequencies and which we're exposed to for long periods of time) or cell phones and wireless access points (which have about the same energy as the TSA devices, and which we're exposed to for long periods of time).

But isn't 10 microSieverts over a 5 hour flight much better than 1 microSievert in the span on a few seconds?


For carcinogenic purposes (what we are discussing here), no.

The fractionation effect only comes into play when you receive such a high radiation does that it can cause large amounts of cell death. Similarly, being burned (with fire) twice at low intensity is better than being burned once at high intensity, since your body can partially recover after the first burn.

The health concern raised about the backscatter x-ray devices is that the rays they use are very low-energy compared to the x-rays we are used to. Because of this, the entire radiation dose will be concentrated on the first millimeter or so of your skin, which means that the radiation dose your skin absorbs from the device will be considerably higher than the dose it absorbs from flying.

You've made the mistake of fighting fear, emo-drama & crusade/martyr psychology, with evidence, facts and logic. In any such fight, the latter tends to lose. :)

> Both of those emit radiation and until there's definitive proof that one or both do not cause damage, they shouldn't be in use.

Should we ban your light bulbs because they emit radiation that is in every way more dangerous than millimeter waves?

Sorry, but the catch-all "ban all radiation because the word radiation sounds scary" is beyond stupid. I believe there are good reasons not to use this kind of technology (mostly it's about privacy), but luddism like this degrades the legitimate health concerns there are against backscatter x-ray machines.

There is definitive proof that millimeter wave does not cause cancer, considering it's basically far infrared light which hits you all day every day.

Millimeter wave and X-ray scanners are not the same thing and should never be confused.

I personally would never go through an X-ray scanner. Are the scanners marked in some way so I know which is which?

From an NPR blog entry:

By the way, you might be wondering: Can the average traveler standing in a security line tell the difference? Yes, a TSA spokesman says. The X-ray type is blue and has two walls. The millimeter-wave machine is grayish-white and is more cylindrical.


Thanks. Just how shielded are those X-ray scanners?

They look like just walking near them will expose you.

You could stand next to them all day and it would still be less than 1% of your daily radiation dose from cosmic rays. More importantly, for argument's sake, it would be much less than the amount of additional radiation you pick up on a standard flight.

I know, but I still don't want unnecessary radiation.

stay out of sunlight. don't eat bananas. don't use cellphones. don't stare into a computer screen. don't have a WiFi network in your house/office. and probably don't have a microwave oven either, just to be safe. Because none of those things are necessary. ;)

I'm not arguing for them. I'm arguing for arguing well.

And just like that, it's that easy for someone to avoid the whole system. If -anyone- can avoid them, then terrorists can. And that defeats the whole system.

Of course, that assumes the system worked in the first place, which I don't believe.

How dumb are people to not realize it's radiation one way or another? Do they think it's "magic" they can see through your clothes?

How can there be a class action lawsuit against printer ink, but not against radiating you for no reason with devices that have no track record?

Where are these devices for entering Congress or the Whitehouse if they are so safe?

So would the President choose the radiation naked picture method or the deep groping method for his daughters? I'd seriously like that question asked at some point by the press.

ps. Even if you opt-out, you are probably being exposed to whatever radiation method they use.

Note how in this photo the person in line, not just the person in the scanner is being exposed:


> So would the President choose the radiation naked picture method or the deep groping method for his daughters? I'd seriously like that question asked at some point by the press.

No one in the press has the guts to ask him this. But man, I'd love to see that too.

There is a meme growing on Twitter:


Mr. President: Would you send Michelle/Sasha/Malia through TSA screening? Naked photos or invasive genital groping, you get to pick.

This appears to have started on Reddit:


It will be interesting to be able to pinpoint where this started if it has any actual effect on the situation.

this Mediate article has background on the Twitter meme: http://www.mediaite.com/online/reddit-users-asks-obama-to-se...

Airforce-1 doesn't have this.

Nor do any private plane terminals for that matter, international and domestic. You own or charter a plane - you are TSA-free.

Because there are no terrorists who can afford their own planes, clearly.

For now? I wonder.

To be fair, not just the President but also any Congressperson/Senator that is interviewed for the rest of the year on any program.

Which one do you want your mother/children experiencing, naked picture radiation, deep groping, or would you instead choose the $10,000 fine for leaving (and possibly being put on the no-fly list forever)?

Maybe I'm just cynical but I'd imagine the answer would be something like, "The scanner. The devices are safe and we feel their use is important for ensuring the safety of US citizens. Next question?"

Yeah, you can give any answer when you know you'll never need to actually be put through any of the options.

If everyone who flies, and I do mean everyone (regardless of whether you'll be boarding a personal plane), had to go through this every time, we'd see this go away.

I talked with the TSA's director of privacy policy Peter Pietra a while ago, and he's a big proponent of the scanners: he thinks there aren't any radiation risks. My guess is that a lot of the people in the administrations see things the same way.

I had no idea what $10k fine you were talking about, but did some searching and found this (for anyone else who doesn't keep up on all the latest TSA news).


Utah Congreessman Jason Chaffetz has made quite a big deal about getting rid of the backscatter x-ray machines in the past, when they were first being implemented

indeed. back in May 2009, as a freshman congressman, Jason led an unexpected bipartisan outcry in the House that got the machines defunded. the vote happened right before final session of the Computers, Freedom, and Privacy conference (which was in DC that year) where we had been talking -- and tweeting! -- about this all week.

it really isn't a partisan issue.

This is something I just don't get. Congressmen are some of the most frequent flyers, and if anybody outside TSA itself has any say in the matter, it is them. Why don't they push harder? Alternatively, why does the press behave as if congressmen are simply ignorant of the issue? Why don't they discuss it publicly?

No matter what he says, he can't win. Some will blame him for keeping the scanners in place and the others will play the political game blame him for being weak on security (even if they know the scanners are useless)

It would be a waste of a question because the President will never have to experience this scanning. Better yet: ask Chelsea Clinton or the Bush daughters.

Brilliant framing of the issue. I can see the ads already. This framing is almost as brilliant as the death tax.

> Do they think it's "magic" they can see through your clothes?


"Where are these devices for entering Congress or the Whitehouse if they are so safe?"

Jackpot. Part of the trouble is that the policy makers don't have to swallow their own medicine. They have private jets and political connections that place them above their own laws. It's not even that they are "above" the law. They simply write laws that won't involve them.

As much as I enjoy picking apart irrational government actions, you're stretching it here. For example, (deceased) Senator Ted Kennedy claimed to have been on the list and detained at airports.

See https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/No_Fly_List#F... :

In August 2004, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) told a Senate Judiciary Committee discussing the No Fly List that he had appeared on the list and had been repeatedly delayed at airports.

Of course, he was eventually able to get his name off the list, something that few mortals are able to accomplish.

The fact that he was able to remove himself from the list seems to validate my argument. The senator was able to appeal directly to the Homeland Security Secretary.

From the article: Recognizing that as a U.S. Senator he was in a privileged position of being able to contact Ridge, Kennedy said of "ordinary citizens": "How are they going to be able to get to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?"

I'm still shocked over this incident overall. The fact that someone wouldn't be able to identify Teddy by sight, let alone his voice is shocking. Let alone, if you go to your supervisor they didn't know.

Yeah, there's also the tricky bit for the TSA that it's a particularly nasty felony to interfere with a Congressman's duties.

The fact that you can see the next person in line proves that this picture is a blatant fake. (Note how the apparent sizes of the two people are identical to the actual photo: I guarantee that the x-ray camera isn't sitting at the same position that the photo was taken from! This picture and the others like it are a bad Photoshop job, nothing more.)

I loathe the body scanner/groping policies as much as the next guy. But it doesn't help our case if the arguments against them turn out to be falsified.

They are not fake.


There are 100 of them, those are just a sampling.

I'm not interested in how many of them there are, I'm interested in what they show. And from what I've seen of those galleries, a number of these supposed scanner images show people who aren't in the scanner.

If you can explain to me how that's possible with any of the current porno scanner technologies, you've got a case. (In particular, you'll need to explain why the "scanner images" show people from the same angle and perspective as the photos that accompany them.) Otherwise, I stand by my claim: whether it's one picture or a hundred, they're faked.

Real images, but a different technology.

The EM spectrum is a big thing; presumably they thought it was infrared or something harmless like that since there aren't radiation hazard symbols everywhere.

That picture is the millimeter wave scanner, which doesn't use radiation. The backscatter scanners are the xray type and are the majority of the scanners in airports.

You didn't pay very close attention in physics class did you?

Millimeter wavelength electromagnetic waves are still radiation as much as any other wavelength.

So? If you think that all parts of the EM spectrum have the same effect then you didn't pay very close attention in physics class.

Propping up pseudoscience bullshit like "it's radiation!" is the same reason why we have to deal with morons complaining about wifi signal.

Ugh /former physics minor

>think that all parts of the EM spectrum have the same effect

Absolutely nowhere did I indicate that.

It does use radiation, and radiation is for the most part, and in this case, completely harmless.

I would assert that not understanding that all EM waves are radiation, including visible light, is the reason we have to deal with morons complaining about wifi signals.

/former physics major, and current title dropper

For better or worse, the word "radiation" carries a negative connotation. It bugs me when people who know better throw the word around knowing that they exploit people's ignorance.

Of course people not understanding that all EM is radiation is a problem but the statement that "it is a problem because people don't understand x" is true for almost every value of x.

Erm, I shoulda said "xray". My mistake. :)

Americans really should start a campaign against this kind of degrading treatment and make sure that it's stopped. It shows a profound lack of respect for human dignity. The video showing a child being molested by an airport security guard is just horrific, and long lasting psychological damage could occur with a child that young after having a traumatic experience of that kind.

This is what I have been thinking. If enough people refuse, its so inconvenient for them that they don't bother to hassle you.

I opted out during my last flight. After everything I had read, I decided I needed to experience it first hand. I was expecting a huge scene, with the TSA agent screaming, "OPT OUT! We've got an opt out here!", and then being manhandled, groped, and basically demeaned in front of other passengers.

After removing my shoes (the one part of airport security theatre I absolutely hate) and placing my belongings in those gray trays, I walked up to the TSA agent, who asked me multiple times if I had anything in my pockets-had I forgotten my wallet? Did I have my wrist watch on? Etc.

After the person in front of me had completed his scan, the TSA agent directed me to step forward. I asked if I could opt out. He responded with, "sure", and in his walkie-talkie, said, "I have a male-opt out." He then looked at me and said, "One second..."

He got a response back in his walkie talkie, and then directed me to walk through the scanner, pointing out that the scanner was not on.

On the other side, I was greeted by an older gentleman, who also pointed out the scanner was off. He asked if I would prefer being patted down in a private location. I declined. He then explained everything he would do: From the pat down, to using the back of his hand for the more "private" areas. I said, "okay...", honestly expecting the worst at this point.

He proceeded with the pat down at this point. He did my upper body first (arms, chest, back) and then went to my backside and said, "I'll now be using the back of my hand to pat your more private area" (my butt, basically...) I responded, "okay", and then with a brush, he ran his hand down the backside of my leg.

I'll be honest: My immediate thought was, "That's it? I've been grabbed worse in a club/bar..."

Of course, I still hadn't received the crotch check...

He then explained he would be patting down my leg. "Here goes...", I thought.

With the back of his hands, he patted down my upper thighs (no where near the crotch), and then wrapped his hands around my legs and went "up" until "contact" was made, but immediately moved down, patting the rest of my leg. He then moved on to the other.

Again, I've seen and experienced far worse contact made in a club/bar.

After that, he had to get his gloves scanned (similar to the band they use for laptops), and after everything came clear, he thanked me for cooperating. I thanked him in response, and went on my way.

While I realize it's entirely dependent on the TSA agent you're dealing with, as well as personal/emotional experience, my own experience wasn't nearly as bad as I had prepared myself for.

When I pointed this out to a friend of mine (via text), he responded, "Yeah, but you're not a hot chick..."

He probably has a point :)

A few observations: Two of the four or five passengers who opted-in to get scanned, had to be patted down after - a similar experience I had (I went through the scanner once before, a mistake on my part, and had to be patted down after...)

The TSA agent made a comment during the pat down that surprised me: He wasn't a fan of the scanners himself. He said (paraphrasing here), "I've been reading about the radiation from these machines. You think passengers have it bad? I have to stand in front of this thing all day!"

Edit: Shoot, this is a lot longer than I had anticipated. A tl;dr: I opted-out of the scanner out of my own curiosity. The airport I flew out of employed TSA agents who made the experience not nearly as bad as I had anticipated... Of course, YMMV.

> You think passengers have it bad? I have to stand in front of this thing all day!

I encourage anyone that opts out to plant this fear in the TSA agents head. "I'm a little concerned about the radiation myself but I can't imagine what it's like for you to stand near this machine all day. It must be worrying".

Getting the TSA agents on our side certainly can't hurt.

"I have to stand in front of this thing all day!"

You know, I never thought about that. Considering how x-ray technicians stand behind lead guards and aren't scanning people rapid-fire all day, I wonder what the dosage the TSA folks are getting.

TSA will not allow staff to wear film badge dosimeters, like those regularly worn by health care workers with potential radiation exposure,

Everyone is also assuming that the TSA is properly configuring and maintaining this equipment, and that it is not malfunctioning and giving overdoses.

They actively disallow it? That is rather, umm, shocking? If anyone ever called out the "if you've got nothing to cover up..." line, then I'd say it fits here.

TSA will not allow staff to wear film badge dosimeters

Do you have a link for that?

Has anyone worn a film badge dosimeter while getting scanned (or just put on in their pocket)? That would be a way to independently test the radiation dose.

If everything is configured properly, the dosimeters would read normal. If not, isn't it better to find out as soon as possible?

No. Imagine if a few workers were being overdosed. The TSA would get sued and they'd have to find some other way to annoy us.

No data, no lawsuit.

Using dosimeters works in many places where they use equipment that produce X-rays. On occasion, an incident happens. This may lead to a lawsuit, but still a lawsuit much smaller in scope than when workers are being overdosed over longer periods of time and them finding out in a few years.

X-Ray technicians also hide behind lead-lined walls, so when they're irradiating you they're doing so while protected. The TSA screeners are just standing next to the machines and are probably getting pretty much the same dose that their passengers are, which given that these machines are in the TSA's hands, probably means that they have absolutely no idea as to what dosage they're actually delivering.

Yeah, that's my concern.

Slightly off-topic, but this reminds me of the recent studies that revealed that nicotine in the air is actually spread nicely throughout a restaurant that has good air flow. Thus, even waiters and waitresses who opt to work in "nonsmoking" sections are still getting a decent dose of nicotine, moreso than in restaurants with bad air flow. What do people in the restaurant industry do to reduce the risks associated with nicotine inhalation for their employees? Tying back to this issue for the TSA employees, it seems like there would be some kind of regulation to help employees avoid prolonged exposure to rays/substances that have high risk consequences.

Restaurants deal with that by getting rid of the smoking section, which I think nearly every US state requires by law now anyway.

Indiana doesn't. (At least.) You have us confused with a state in the twenty-first, I think.

I did say nearly. There are a few holding strong... Missouri still didn't last time I was there, but it's been a few years.

Now, wouldn't it be interesting to show up at the airport with a couple of spare dosimeters and give them to the porn crew? It is doubtful that they are all instructed against them, or else they would have already considered radiation risks.

Well when TSA agents across the nation begin to undergo a wave of gruesome mutations, we will have our answer.

Nice to get a detailed user report. One question--what clubs do you go to, to get extreme gropings?

It's common in standing-room-only punk and rock shows. When the music starts, people push forward, so the crowd compresses shockingly tight. There is so much pressure that your arms are pinned to the person next to you, unless you raised them when the music started. Combine that with the oddball-variety of people who attend these shows, and you get conversations like the following:

   Ben: Brian, are you touching my ass?
   Brian: No.
   Ben: I was afraid of that.

I wondered the same thing. My first thought was "some gay clubs are like that", but I do not wish to make any unwelcome assumptions about anyone's sexuality :-)

If you're looking for extreme gropings, I'd say Ramrod's backroom in Boston is about as good as it gets. Just sayin.

Two things that strike me.

First, what is the back of the hand thing all about? Is it less sensitive? Is it somehow less demeaning? It doesn't make sense to me.

Second, if he "made contact" and then immediately retreated...what did he make contact with? Was it clearly your junk? Or could it have been anything? How is it at all effective to do the pat down if all they do is retreat when they feel a little resistance. That could be anything.

And one more thing for good measure...

It's not the pleasantness or not of the pat down that is central to this issue. It's the effectiveness of it, the invasiveness of it, etc. Sure, your guy was nice...that doesn't have any impact on the policy being good or bad at all (not to say that is what you implied).

They use the back of he hand on more private areas so that the fingers are facing outwards. The idea is to prevent any kind of grabbing: perceived, actual, accidental, intentional, whatever.

Edit: iPod typos

I always thought that it was because the palm of the hand was more sensitive than the back, but the finger theory is much more sensible.

I too have wondered- wouldn't you just hide something in your crotch then?

I suspect you may have received the old "mild" patdown and not the new "enhanced" one. I think the new one uses the front of the hand.

The guy in San Diego who refused the patdown a couple days ago now has the TSA claiming he was only going to get the old one:

"Aguilar says that Tyner was facing nothing more than the traditional pat-down that TSA has used for some time, and not a more aggressive body search in effect since late October."


If this is true then patdownees are not yet experiencing the real thing in some locations.

Thanks for posting this. Very insightful.

The thing I keep in mind is while I might not have a problem with this kind of pat-down I doubt many women are going to be ok with it.

The pat-down itself isn't even the real problem here or even the potential to abuse it (which is bad enough); almost certainly if you are an attractive women this is at the minimum going to be an embarrassing scene. I told my gf about this and she was shocked; she happens to be a very attractive asian women who normally draws a lot of unnecessary attention just out shopping/doing whatever.

So does she choose a private pat-down and who knows what kind of risks that brings? Or does she do it publicly so everyone can watch her getting groped? Sure as a guy I think no big deal, but for women this really is a big deal.

Anyway, what a mess and worst of all it fixes nothing.

As pleasant as your experience was, this shouldn't be taken in any way as justification for the procedure. I'm not saying that's what you're trying to do; it's just that I can see people reading this and saying to themselves "Well, what's the big deal? It's not that bad."

To provide another data point: I had essentially the same experience at Boston Logan airport a week ago. When I said I would prefer not to go through the scanner, the TSA agent said into her radio "I have a male opt-out." I was calm and respectful, so were the TSA agents, nobody was particularly happy about the process, but everyone was professional about it. It did take perhaps an extra 5 minutes, and I was a little concerned about my luggage being out of sight during that time.

This was after the most recent initial flurry of bad publicity, so perhaps word came down to skip the yelling.

I have to say it sounds like you received the not so invasive pat down procedure of old not the new and improved stick your hands down my pants and twist pat down procedures.

A friend told me he flew into San Antonio yesterday and not only had his junk touched but it was twisted to boot. He said he didn't even get offered dinner first and he was afraid he'd get arrested if he'd punched the guy in the nose but was really just too freaked out to do anything.

This is what the government wants; sheeple that will let them even mess with your private parts without response.

this almost reads like one of those gopher text-porn stories pre-web.

I flew through three airports with backscatter machines last week. I had a small child with me. Each time i was directed to the regular metal detector - and in one case where my child walked ahead and was about to go through the backscatter machine, she got called back by the TSA person with some agitation and directed through the metal detector instead.

I don't have enough data points to know for sure, but I am wondering if they are purposefully not screening kids in these things and if so, are they doing so due to the radiation exposure concerns.

Like the OP, I never saw anybody opt out.

Alternately, they may be concerned about having pictures of naked children stored on the hard drive.

Or both!

Never underestimate the potential for convincing an underpaid federal employee to cut corners. If you make this stuff too inconvenient for the guys on the ground, the policy gets eroded from the inside.

Until Napolitano cracks down. But that's several moves ahead.

I think most of them are intoxicated on the power, I mean how much would someone have to pay you to grope people all day? I'd quit in an hour.

Have you seen the photo where this horrifying parody


is the wallpaper on the computer screen in the TSA office?


I mean think about the mentality - in the very workplace they do it.

Saying "I would do X when presented with Y" is easy to say when you have not been presented with Y. Regarding the wallpaper, yes, it's inappropriate. Perhaps it is an indication that the people are drunk with power. But it could also be another instance of people in an uncomfortable situation using humor as a coping mechanism.

In The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker talks about how, as a security consultant, he takes offhand jokes very seriously. He tells the story about the office which received an odd-looking package that nobody was expecting. They debated whether to open it. Eventually one guy decided to open it, so his coworker left the room. As the coworker was leaving, he made an offhand joke over his shoulder: "I'm going to stand in the other room so I won't be around when the bomb goes off."

Then the bomb went off.

Jokes are designed as a mechanism for saying speculative, potentially scary things without being threatening or looking stupid. When I see a TSA agent with that wallpaper, I see someone who knows at some level that something is very wrong but isn't able to say so out loud. Maybe they can't even say it out loud to themselves.

I had to look up the story Gavin de Becker was quoting, I never heard it before but it was the Unabomber. http://articles.latimes.com/1995-07-09/news/mn-22130_1_suspi...

Just to be clear, the Unabomber was the person that sent the bomb, not the coworker.

If your job makes you that uncomfortable, you can't do it properly and you should seek other employment immediately.

That's like excusing cops for not following the law themselves because they have a "difficult" job.

You mean, so uncomfortable that you set your wallpaper to a funny picture? You're right, clearly anyone that uncomfortable couldn't possibly be doing their job well.

It's pretty tasteless, but give me a break. Some guy is "drunk with power" because he thinks an image macro is funny?

I don't think cops breaking the law is analogous to people making inappropriate jokes about their work to colleagues. There are valid ways to argue against these machines and the policy. I do not think your line of argument is one of them.

Power turns you into an asshole. When I was in the Navy, I got temporarily assigned to ship's security. I saw a lot of people go from being happy-go-lucky sailors to yelling at their fellow shipmates for having haircuts slightly out of regulation. Look no further than the Stanford prison experiment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

I'm actually more horrified by my tax dollars paying for the TSA to sit in Herman Miller chairs, but damn. Beggars belief.

There are possibly some good reasons for that. If your employee sits most of the day, and you are covering his medical expenses, perhaps it is a good idea to get him a chair that doesn't screw up his body.

You should get your employee a standing desk instead.

Pff, why should common sense get in the way of some good bitching about tax dollars?

I'm sick of my tax dollars paying for their computers, they should have to type stuff up themselves in triplicate.

I know a consultant who leaves his dirty underwear at the top of his suitcase so when whey randomly search his bag, they quickly close it back up and send him on his way. The same thing can be accomplished with the body searches by eating a half dozen boiled eggs a couple hours before your flight.

Also, never underestimate the power we have in numbers. The challenge is in maintaining civility among a group during those fight or flight situations.

I recently flew JFK->SFO and back on Virgin. There are no backscatter machines at the Virgin terminal at JFK. They do have them at SFO. About every 10th person was selected to go through the scanner. Nobody opted out. Contrary to most reports, the TSA agents at both airports were pretty nice and helpful. At JFK, they were helping a number non-english speaking travelers speed their way through the line so they wouldn't miss their flight. If anything was off, a couple of the agents at SFO were too chipper at 6am, which made them seem slightly insane. Privacy and health concerns aside, an issue with this machine is that it does nothing to speed up the security line. If anything, it is slightly slower than the metal detector.

I wonder if this is really a cancer risk. For instance, I feel like living in Toxic Williamsburg is probably a worse cancer risk than going through the backscatter machine twice a year.


If anything was off, a couple of the agents at SFO were too chipper at 6am

Probably because they were looking forward to seeing some hotties.

The main chipper employee I remember was the androgynous female directing traffic at the front of the line. I would like to think if she wanted to see a nude hottie I would have been selected for the device, but who knows which way she was swinging.


Anyone care to do the math on what it would cost in excess fuel to add enough metal shielding to the fuselage to offer passengers "new and improved: no x-rays!" flights? (Only mostly not serious).

With more widespread awareness of x-ray exposure during a normal flight, I wonder if we will see any people so agitated that they wear stuff like this: http://www.medvena.com/protection_clothing_maco_en.html

Great moral: "Information, properly delivered, is power."

"There’s a senate oversight meeting tomorrow, so please call these people and tell them how you feel (http://hillwho.com/index.php?option=com_sobi2&sobi2Task=...)."

Buried the lede.

I thought it was established on HN that that letter about safety had been properly addressed (it's from April).

Yes, the letter is from April, but not many people buy the FDA response to the letter.

See: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2010/11/fda-sidesteps-sa...


Has anyone thought of the impact of tourism. I'm in Australia and there has been a bit of a campaign to spend your holidays in California on the tv. I was deciding to take the family to Europe or the US, after hearing all the travel problems the US has - Europe here we come. I'm not the only one.

Further proof that social engineering is, as always, far more effective than direct hacking at getting through security with a payload, even when that payload may not be bytecode.

Direct link to the printed letter (PDF):


Some lines I've been saving up, feel free to contribute.

"Aren't you at least going to buy me dinner first?" "Woah there buddy, don't skimp on the foreplay." "I think you might have missed a spot."

Write in big letters at the top of the literature: "Please read this then pass it to the person behind you in line. Thank you."

I would upvote this 1000 times if I could.

The actual letter from Prof. John Sedat and others, UCSF:


"They’re expendable workers. I own this place. I’m the boss. They work for me. The only reason I don’t fire them is that they’re cheaper than robots. Etc."

I hate people like that. Why must he build himself up by putting down others? Regardless of what you think of the TSA's procedures, the people in the airport don't make the law. They're just decent people trying to make a living. If you have to insult them, albeit only to yourself, just to opt out of a scan you're probably the one who needs replaced by a robot.

It's really easy to Godwin a response to this, but I'll opt out and just ask: How decent are these people if they signed up for jobs to look at naked pictures and grope strangers? I'm all for being respectful as a tactic, but it's not as if they're doing anything to deserve respect.

When it comes to jobs of enforcement, you have to divorce the intent from the actions. It's similar to a cop. Lots of cops get into that career because they want to uphold the law and that's how you do it. They don't get to choose what laws they uphold. Cops routinely are forced to do things that go against their own personal politics, because you couldn't have a police force where every individual cop only enforced the laws as they saw fit.

It's not bad to want to uphold travel safety or to take a job doing so. You might disagree with whether or not these scanners accomplish that, or if they do, if it's worth the tradeoff, and so might the TSA agent. That doesn't make the TSA agent less deserving of respect as a person.

I find your argument disingenuous, since these people were likely hired before these new regulations were in place.

It's not as if this is the first invasive thing they've done, and I think my argument still stands if rephrased as "people who wouldn't quit a job when told to look at naked pictures and grope strangers all day."

Security personnel will almost always have to perform a job that is, in some way, invasive. Your argument could apply to all security personnel, not just those participating in the new policies.

I believe he was intentionally using hyperbole there. For example, if he were being literal, why would he mention "firing" anyone, since he obviously can't actually do that?

It doesn't matter. It says something about him regardless. It says something about the snobbishness here too that nobody else thinks its even noteworthy.

Sorry--I'm not trying to be condescending here, but, are you familiar with what exaggeration really means?

Sorry for being cynical, but for me this story reads more or less like: there's a guy who didn't have enough balls to opt out only by himself and thus decided to find others to join him (he even brought some papers to show), and the others were some family where a woman, "fortunately"(?) had a cancer before - it's rather sad.

I think you are completely off base. In my opinion, it seems the guy was planning to opt out anyway and wanted to do his small part in spreading awareness of the problems associated with the scanners. I would even go so far as to say the radiation literature is a strawman for the bigger problem (people have shown that they are willing to give up their personal liberties, but EVERYONE responds to physical danger).

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