“I Opt Out:” What You Must Know About New Airport Backscatter Scanners

June 16, 2015

Airport Backscatter ScannersIf you’ve paid any attention to the news over the past month or so you’ve heard all the controversy about the new scanners at sixty-eight airports across the country. It seems like every time we turn around someone is complaining about something or someone wants to object to one or another implemented change.

New Airport Backscatter Scanners

Coming on the heels of last year’s thwarted Christmas Day terrorist attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has chosen to implement a way to deter terrorists and provide a level of security for travelers through the use of the whole body backscatter scanner.

But will this device deter and catch terrorists? And of equal importance, will it cause more harm to innocent travelers than ever intended?

Holiday Travel Plans: Will Yours Change?

With today’s transient world more and more people travel during the holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas. The most opted for form of travel is the airplane. Do you or someone you love plan to do any air travel during the fast approaching holiday season? If so, you’ll want to read on and find out more about these backscatter scanners causing a national stir.

First, it’s important to note that there are more than just everyday air travelers up in arms about these new x-ray machines. It’s not just about an invasion of privacy, although with these whole body backscatter scanners the airport security viewing the images can see many parts of the body considered private.

These scanners show such an accurate body picture the user can detect whether the passenger (or airplane personnel) are male or female, have surgical scars, and even if a female passenger is menstruating. But that’s not even the most notable concern.

The concerns expressed by two airline unions, The United States Pilot Association and the Allied Pilots Association as well as a group of four scientists from the University of California in San Francisco are about the health and well being of air travelers and airplane personnel like fight attendants and pilots.

University of California’s Researchers Health Concerns Voiced

The two airline unions mentioned above sent letters out to all of their members, totaling almost 20,000 pilots flying for US Airways and American Airlines urging them to avoid and opt out of these whole body backscatter scanners.

The unions stated concerns about the safety of the accumulative effects of these intense x-ray machines on pilots who already are exposed to far more radiation on the job than even nuclear plant workers.

But the unions aren’t the only organizations alarmed by the addition of these scanners to airports nationwide. Four scientists from the University of California’s San Francisco campus are so concerned about the impact of these body scanners on public health they were compelled to put it in writing and send it to Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren.

In their letter the group voiced serious concerns for the health of the public with the use of these machines. The group, led by scientist John W. Sedat, PhD and Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, stated that the whole body backscatter scanner hasn’t been fully or adequately tested for certain safety concerns, mostly having to do with radiation exposure.

One of the primary concerns with the backscatter scanners is that the radiation is delivered almost entirely to the skin and underlying tissues. The amount of radiation delivered would be better distributed throughout the entire body, however with this type of scanner it is strictly put on the skin and tissues. This makes the amount of radiation delivered to the skin and tissues high.

The type of radiation used is ionizing radiation. This type of radiation’s effects are cumulative and they are a known health hazard. This means that every time you are exposed to it, you are adding to your risk of developing cancer.

The group also voices concern that there is no independent scientific data ensuring that the amounts of radiation claimed by the government to be delivered during a scan is accurate.

The other area of concern is for certain passengers who will go through these backscatter scanners while they travel. Certain groups are more susceptible to the harmful effects of radiation than others.

People Who MUST Avoid Backscatter Scanners


  • Older travelers over the age of 65
  • Certain females sensitive to mutagenesis- provoking radiation
  • Immune compromised individuals
  • Children and adolescents
  • Pregnant women

The problem for some of these people is known, or at least partially known. For older travelers we already know that this group is at risk for problems from the mutating impact of x-rays based on the biology of the body from melanocyte aging.

A percentage of the female population suffers from defects in their DNA repair mechanisms making them more likely to suffer from cancers from radiation often leading to breast cancer. In fact, this group of women is recommended to avoid mammograms for this reason. (I actually recommend that NO women get a mammogram.)

When it comes to the latter three groups the problem is that not enough is known about the cumulative effects of the whole body backscatter scanner. When it comes to health, these groups in general they are always more susceptible to health issues from radiation exposure.

Another concern is what happens when the system malfunctions? What are the dangers if the machine doesn’t scan but instead gets ‘stuck’ on one part of the body? What is the potential radiation exposure to that one part and what are the resulting health effects? The problem is no one really knows yet the government is now virtually forcing millions of Americans to find out by trial and error.

As John Sedat stated in his groups letter to Holdren,

“Crises create a sense of urgency that frequently leads to hasty decisions where unintended consequences are not recognized.”

Think blood transfusions and HIV amongst other huge ‘goofs’ by well intending government agencies.

Getting Proactive for Holiday Travel

So now what? These devices will be popping up in more and more airports across the country. Do you have to go through them? Do you have a choice?

Of course you do but you must exercise this choice.

There are several options if you plan to use air travel. First of all you can look for the lines with the backscatter scanners which are blue and have two walls. The other machine you can choose is the millimeter-wave machine which is cylindrical in shape and whitish-gray in color.

If you can’t make this choice and do find yourself face to face with the backscatter scanner you can opt out. You cannot be forced to go through this machine. However in this case you must go through a physical ‘pat down.’

Don’t expect all airport security personnel to be understanding; in fact some may insist you say the exact phrase as follows,

“I opt out.”

Simple but now very powerful words.

If you do opt out be prepared for the pat down. The TSA is now using what they call the enhanced pat down which includes using their palms to search genitals. This is also allowed for children so be aware of what’s going on before you decide to fly and opt out of the backscatter machines. The entire pat down should last no more than ten minutes. You are able to request a member of your same sex perform the pat down, as well as request that the pat down is done in public view.

Opting out is your right, you may be intimidated into the scan but standing your ground is your legal right and should be exercised if you want to do so. If for any reason you feel the pat down for you or any member of your family was inappropriate either contact local law enforcement or the TSA complaint line at 1-866-289-9673. Be sure to take note of the name of the TSA employee who did your pat down.

It’s vital that we make a serious effort to protect ourselves from the new terrorist threat but it’s equally important that in haste and fear we don’t jeopardize our own health, both now and long term. Avoiding excessive radiation is vital to optimal health and vital living. Exercise your rights to optimal living!


National Public Radio (2010)

Next Gov (2010)

University of California San Francisco (2010)

We Won’t Fly (2010)

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