Backscatter x-ray technology is an imaging process, using the radiation that reflects back from the target, or, in the case of airport screening, the person. This, and the millimeter wave scanner are used as security scanning measures at airports in the United States and several other countries.
While normal x-rays rely on the transmission of x-rays through the object, backscatter detects radiation that reflects back to form an actual image. In the case of airport scanners, the image is taken from both sides.
This technology was first used in 1992 by Dr. Steven W. Smith. He sold the device, and Rapiscan systems now manufactures the scanner. Not only are backscatter x-ray scanners used in airports for passenger inspection, they are used to scan trucks and large shipping containers. This has provided an easy and effective way to check for smuggled items, contraband, and dangerous materials.
The problem with the backscatter scanner is that some people have issues with being scanned and viewed by inspectors at airport check points. Backscatter images reveal the person as a nude, in order to insure that no hidden objects are being carried on board the plane. Efforts to blur the image to appease passengers, has resulted in less than desirable security, since the image is not clear. It has been suggested that an inspector, some distance away from the actual check point, view the image, to make the passenger less self conscious. Chalk line drawings, replacing actual nude images have replaced some screen views in several airports.
Passengers not only resent the fact that their privacy may be compromised, they are fearful that the radiation employed in the device might be harmful down the road. Both The American College of Radiologists, and the TSA, have proclaimed the backscatter scanner safe, but other studies have shown that the safety pretty much depends on the type of scanner itself, and there are several companies producing the device.
Some people object to this technology on the basis of personal choice and religious restrictions. For some religions, the viewing of a person’s body, even in a security scanner is strictly forbidden.
While this method might very well be a boon to preventing dangerous people and objects from getting on a plane, with the amount of concern and resistance it is experiencing from social, and religious groups, some new method of using this technology might have to be employed.