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Increasingly unpopular airport body scanners may offer false security

USA Today documents the growing resistance to the use of body scanners at airports — a resistance that’s particularly marked in Europe. Complaints about the devices include the expected concerns about privacy, long lines, expense and potential health concerns from even the relatively low levels of radiation emitted by the machines.

It should be noted in addition, however, that body scanners aren’t some kind of proven, super-secure technology that offers us a choice between guaranteed safety and keeping our naughty bits under cover. In fact, the machines may offer a false sense of security. German television did a very interesting demonstration in which an infrared scanner failed to uncover various objects hidden on and around a subjects body — components for thermite. You don’t need to understand a word of the lingo to see what’s going on or to recognize the embarrassment on the (English-speaking) operator’s face. (But if you do speak German, please feel free to fill in the details).

Note that the types of scanners favored by the TSA have their own flaws. Ben Wallace, a British member of Parliament who used to advise a company that studied millimeter-wave scanners, says the devices are fine for picking up knives and guns, but can’t detect powder, liquid or thin plastic.