Monday, November 15, 2010

Rising Rage Over Airport Scanners and Pat Downs

Dont Touch My Junk Video and how airport scanners pose a serious public health risk to millions.

From Denny: John Tyner, age 31 and a software engineer, is facing a $10,000 fine for refusing the full body pat-down security check at a San Diego, California, airport. He is the author of the instantly popular viral YouTube video "Don't Touch My Junk."

Like a lot of people he is furious at the excessive government intervention into his privacy. Think about it. We have one idiot terrorist who loaded up chemical explosives into his underwear and now two million people a day in America have to go through the indignity of the government response to that terrorist act.

How did we get to this? Try the usual suspects. Businessmen saw an opportunity to market their controversial scanner machines to make a serious profit - at the expense of our privacy and health. Health, you say? Yes, health. We only have the word of the scanner machine company and studies commissioned by them from so-called disinterested third parties who make the claim that the machines pose a low risk of cancer.

First of all, most studies these days are done by people of vested interests in the products. Second of all, these are not long term studies over a few years that consider many different ways this product could impact the public health. In short, they are often quick studies meant to give the obvious result: clear the public perception and discredit anyone who protests to the contrary. Spin.

Now comes along a guy who challenges the government's poor response to terrorism. When we have so many other weapons in our arsenal to combat air terrorism, like drug dogs at our disposal, this excessively invasive probe into our most intimate privacy is unacceptable. Most of all, the health risk is far more unacceptable.

By itself the machine may not pose but a low risk to cancer if a person is only irradiated once a year or less. The problem comes from the fact that we are constantly bombarded by radiation in our natural environment every day. When we add man-made radiation on top of that is when we should be considering public health concerns. We get radiated from our microwave ovens and even our grocery produce is subjected to radiation. We experience cosmic radiation during air travel. Then there are magnetic fields from our computers, our TVs, our radios, our washing machines and our cars. Anyway you look at it, magnetic fields and radiation are constant assaults on breaking down our immune systems.

Gary Varvel

As to the airport scanner machines specifically - especially if the government continues to foolishly invest in this unproven technology and expands use to all airports over this decade - consider the maintenance on them. Growing up in the scientific community there is one thing I learned: machines need constant calibration. How are we to know if these airport scanners are getting consistently calibrated so they don't expose us to more radiation than they are claiming? We don't. We have no way of knowing it. And I can bet the government has not even thought about this obvious vulnerability.

Along comes John Tyner who makes a stink about the process and suddenly these airport scanners, the government's handling of privacy issues, public health and now responses to terrorism are all riveting our focus. Tyner made a video, uploaded it to YouTube and now you find the government suddenly on defense and spin mode.

In the words of your opponents, Team Obama, "Man up!" and quit using this controversial technology. Find another way to examine two million people a day without being so invasive. Besides, have you ever considered what an indignity it is for the TSA folks who have to do these obnoxious pat-downs? Can you imagine the conversation when they come home from work every day?

It probably goes like this:

"Honey, how was your day?"

"Oh, it was great. I got to feel off this great looking blonde today and a gay guy was thrilled at my technique. He told me I had magic hands."

All comedy aside, there are a growing number of voices in the scientific community who are complaining about the radiation risk from these machines. Back in May there were four scientists (U. of California at San Francisco) who wrote the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. They related that the scanners could expose the skin to very high doses of X-rays. That, in turn, could lead to risk of cancer as well as other health problems like birth defects and sterility. The scientists were most concerned for the vulnerable in our society: pregnant women, children, older travelers, those who have weak immune systems. They said there are also no studies as to how repeated exposure to these airport scanners will affect frequent travelers.

We also do not have a long-term study to know how radiating millions of people every day will affect them. Could we be sterilizing our world and not even realize it? Could we be creating unnecessary catastrophic illness in thousands of people? I say, cease and desist, Mr. Obama. Find another way to combat terrorism. Have the terrorists so succeeded in terrorizing us that now we are paranoid? Are we now paranoid enough to destroy ourselves with our technology? Then those terrorists do win. Are you sure you want to give in to that insanity - as well as giving away our quality of life?

This is Tyner's exchange with the TSA officials. Since when did buying an airline ticket take away this many of our rights? Enough is enough. The government, in its understandable need to protect us, really has gone too far. Find another way, Mr. Obama.

*** Photo from a Rapiscan Secure 1000 backscatter X-ray scanner, which can produce cancer-causing radiation, reputed to be at very low levels. photo from

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