Full Body Scanners – Are You Concerned About Your Health & Privacy?

A recurring topic that has appeared in the news the last few weeks has been about the use of full body scanners at Australian airports. In particular, this ZDNet article echoes previous concerns about privacy and how the naked images of those who are scanned could be redistributed.

A good example highlighting such a misuse of these images was highlighted in an article by The Age detailing how Shahrukh Khan (a Bollywood actor) was greeted by female security officers wanting him to autograph his scanned image. Granted, this occurred at a British airport and not in Australia but it clearly demonstrates how this technology could be misused.

Now, I’m not the most fit guy you’ve seen (I’m not hopeless but I’m not the best either) but I’d certainly be conscious of allowing personal information (specifically a scanned image of my body) being in the care (temporary, mid-term or long-term) care of others. Sure, businesses have other sensitive information such as credit card numbers and date of birth but for some reason I feel differently about scans of my body. I even object to things such as being fingerprinted to the point that I refuse to visit the USA (or other places that make it a requirement in order to enter the country).

The next issue to consider is the specifications of the radiation emitted by these machines. Admittedly, there is electromagnetic radiation everywhere we go, for instance:

  • Wireless networking (WiFi @ 2.4GHz & 5GHz),
  • Mobile phone networks (850MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 1900MHz, 2100MHz),
  • Medical X-rays,
  • Visible spectrum (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet light),
  • Infrared (IR) and Ultraviolet (UV) light,

In an airport scenario, you may have to go through a metal detector and maybe a hand-held scanner nuy otherwise you will end up going through a full body scanner. The good news here is that your exposure to radiation by a full body scanner is far less than that you would soak up whilst actually travelling in the air. You’d receive the same dose of radiation (0.01 mrem) travelling about 15km by plane. Medical scans use higher levels of radiation such as dental X-rays (10 mrem) or mammograms (30 mrem).

Still, if I can avoid unnecessary radiation exposure, I prefer to take that option. Of course, the scanner manufacturer, the local government and perhaps airport staff will tell you it’s safe but I would still exercise caution in going through too many of these things in any short timeframe.


  1. I think the airlines (and us) are missing the opportunity here for targeted services, such as promotions: If your scan shows you’re fit, they could offer discounted affiliate gym memberships. If you scan fat, they could could offer discounts for business class with roomier chairs. How about meals? How much better would it be if they could look at your scan and say, “Forget the mushy chicken and veges, what this man wants is chips and a pie.”

    There’s also the personal opportunity for you to look the best you ever did naked. You could walk through one of those things using every control top, corset, push-up bra, etc you could find and the scanner magically removes them, leaving you naked with everything in the right spot!

    Glass half full, Boydo. Glass half full. 🙂

    • Roy on February 14, 2010 at 09:37
    • Reply

    Soooo lets draw a long bow. If the information leaked to the public domain, and a scan revealing health issues (pacemaker, heart valve, gastric band) got out, I wonder how that might effect employment assessment, health insurance premiums or eligibility to participate in certain activities. Smells like Gattaga……..

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