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As controversy simmers surrounding the levels of radiation used in full body scanners, a small company based in the United Kingdom has developed a machine that emits no radiation at all.
Last year, the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began installing two types of full body scanners at airport security checkpoints across the country. L3’s Provision millimetre wave scanners beam radio waves through clothing to detect potentially dangerous objects hidden by terrorists. Rapiscan backscatter scanners use low-dose x-rays to do the same.
While both companies and the TSA say the radiation emitted by these machines is at safe levels, the scientific community has not reached a strong consensus either way. Controversy about the use of scanners in the US peaked in late 2010, as travellers argued that both full-body scans and their alternative -- enhanced pat-downs -- could make Americans feel more, not less, terrorized.
Similar controversy has erupted worldwide, as airport authorities test the devices in countries like Australia, Germany, Italy and the UK, although none have adopted the machines for widespread use.
Meanwhile, UK-based company Thruvision has developed a scanning device that emits no radiation at all. Instead, it passively reads the terahertz radiation emitted by humans, and detects anomalies when concealed items block that radiation. In addition, it does not capture or display intimate body details thereby removing the need for the “modesty filtering” software recently added in the US.
In July, Thruvision’s terahertz-scanning technology and L3’s Provision “millimetre wave” were tested at airports in Sydney and Melbourne. Ron Frye, Thruvision’s Director of International Business Development, said the scanner successfully spotted contraband on test subjects, but Australian authorities have not made any firm decisions about the use of any full body scanner. Bermuda’s airport is using Thruvision, and airport authorities in Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are considering deploying its scanning devices.
Though the machines are less expensive than scanners from L3 or Rapiscan, Frye explained, “While our products are used for security screening at military facilities in the US, we estimate it would cost $2 to 3 million to get through the TSA testing, evaluation and approval process for use in airports, which could take two to three years.” Since Thruvision is a small company, Frye said they’re focusing on airports and other facilities in Asia and the Middle East.
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Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC Travel