How revealing is the X-ray scanner at the airport?

How revealing is the Electronic scanner? Is modesty preserved? What can it detect - apart from the body? We answer these and other questions about the airport body scanner.

X-Ray body scanner
Image courtesy of Transportation Security Administration

It used to be just your luggage that is systematically X-rayed for x-rated items such as drugs and weapons. But now the scanner can give an amazingly accurate strip-search electronically and is being used to see through clothes, belts and shoes to reveal the naked truth about passengers and what they are carrying through airport security.

How revealing is the Electronic scanner?

The scanner reveals a general outline of the body and blurry details of the anatomy. So although you can see all the private body parts, they are somewhat obscurred. According to Steve Smith, the American who developed the Secure 1000 scanner “It shows about as much as if the person were wearing a tight bathing suit. Obviously, it must be used with discretion, such as ensuring that the monitor is visible only to the security screener.”

Is modesty preserved?

Yes it is. “What it does is reduce the resolution at certain parts of the body, much like a broadcaster can pixilate someone’s face,” says Angus Fowlie, of the manufacturer, Rapiscan.

While the scanner is more invasive than a conventional metal detector, Dr Smith says it is more effective as it can detect “21st Century weapons” such as explosives and plastic guns.

What can it detect – apart from the body?

Anything concealed on the person including coins in a pocket, trouser studs, metal or ceramic knives, guns, explosives, drugs. The shin bones, which lie close to the skin’s surface, can also be seen, as can features such as the cleft between buttocks.

How long does it take to reveal all?

In just six seconds, an X-ray scanner can produce a 360° digital image of the body – minus clothes.

Who else uses the electronic scanner?

The scanner is in use in the US and worldwide in airports, embassies, court buildings, prisons and government properties.  Civil liberties advocates have raised concerns about an operator’s code of conduct and any risks of passers-by having a look.

Read the news item: X-Ray Scanner to replace body search at UK airports