Advanced imaging technology (AIT): Outline and Sources


I. How does advanced imaging technology (AIT) work?

  1. Instead of relying on absorption of x-rays, backscatter systems view images through the scattering of x-ray photons
    • Elements with fewer protons tend to scatter x-ray protons, while elements with more protons tend to absorb x-ray protons
  2. Characteristics:
    • Narrow, low-intensity x-ray beam
    • 2d images are simultaneously taken of a person’s front and back
    • Images allow more detailed identification of organic material

II. How effective is AIT?

  1. Backscatter patterns are generally effective
    • A backscatter system has the potential to create an extremely detailed image of a person’s body, regardless of how much clothing they are wearing
  2. A backscatter scanner would likely miss a weapon or explosive store in a bodily cavity

III. Even with the stigmatic concept of radiation, are there actual negative health effects that AIT scanners cause in humans?

  1. People, politicians and scientists were less concerned about radiation exposure before World War II
    • Political opposition developed post-World War II due to pressures from scientific community
    • Fruit fly studies showed mutation in cells due to x-ray exposure
    • International Commission on Radiological Protection implemented a no-acceptance on radiation
  2. Safe levels of radiatioon in humans
    • Single whole-body dose of 15 rem of radiation is safe
    • 70 rem of radiation per year is safe
    • These numbers are sensitive to cancer-prone individuals
  3. Backscatter radiation levels
    • 5  microrem of low energy radiation exposure
    • Radiation levels are 3 millions times lower than the safe dose of 15 rem
  4. Backscatter radiation put into perspective
    • Cosmic radiation on a one-way flight from Frankfurt to New York exposes passengers to a dose of about 35 Sv of radiation, whereas the dose of a backscatter scan is about .1 Sv
    • Backscatter produces radiation exposure equivalent to two minutes flying on an airplane
    • In 42 minutes of living, a person is exposed to more radiation from natural sources than used in AIT x-ray security systems
    • Various organizations have approved of backscatter usage, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health, National Institute for Standards and Technology, John’s Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and, of course, the Transportation Security Administration

IV. What personal concerns are raised by AIT?

  1. Health concerns
    • AIT screening is safe for everyone including children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with medical implants
  1. Privacy concerns
    • Highly detailed scans produce “nude” images of passengers
      • Images are at times saved by federal agencies
        • Saved images have been leaked to the public before, notably by the technology blog Gizmodo
      • The use of scanners in airports may breach child pornography laws
    • Images produced by the scanner can be modified to be less revealing
      • Passengers’ gentials, buttocks and breasts could be blurred in the image produced by the scanner
      • Modifying the image decreases the scanner’s effectiveness at detecting explosives and other weapons


  • “Airport full body scanners and pregnancy.” Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. 2011. <>.
  • Cavoukian, Ann. “Whole Body Imaging in Airport Scanners: Activate Privacy Filters to Achieve Security and Privacy.” Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. 12 March 2009. <>.
  • Hamilton, Jon. “New Airport Body Scans Don’t Detect All Weapons.” NPR. 14 January, 2010. <>.
  • Hupe, Oliver. “Security scanners for personnel and vehicle control: quantities and dose values.” European Journal of Radiology 63.2 (2007): 237-241.
  • Johnson, Joel. “One Hundred Naked Citizens: One Hundred Leaked Body Scans.” Gizmodo 16 November, 2010. <!5690749/these-are-the-first-100-leaked-body-scans>.
  • Kiltou, Demetrius. “Backscatter body scanners—A strip search by other means.” Computer Law & Security Report 24.4 (2008): 316-325.
  • Lord, Steve. “Aviation Security: TSA is Increasing Procurement and Deployment of the Advanced Imaging Technology, but Challenges to This Effort and Other Areas of Aviation Security Remain.” United States Government Accountability Office. 17 March 2010. <>.
  • McCullagh, Declan. “Feds admit storing checkpoint body scan images.” CNET 4 August 2010. <>.
  • Transportation Security Administration. 2011. <>.
  • Travis, Alan. “New scanners break child porn laws.” The Guardian. 4 January 2010. <>.
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2011. <>.

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