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Examining the Impact of Airport X-Ray Technologies - Part 2

Is there an alternative to backscatter scans?

As stated in Part 1 my focus on this article will be more on the backscatter technology as this seems to be where traveler scanning is heading and it involves ionizing radiation. Currently we have varied opinions on this technology with a major concern for the routine use of ionizing X-rays being that of health issues.

Also mentioned was the fact that our skin being our largest organ, it may be affected from backscatter skin surface scans in the long term. Continuing on as stated earlier, per Wikipedia [4], there are three companies manufacturing commercial backscatter X-ray devices:

  • American Science and Engineering with their Smartcheck[5]

  • Rapiscan Systems with their Secure 1000 [6]

  • Tek84 with their AIT84 Body Scanner & Castscope [7]

According to data on the Smartcheck [5] page the effective x-ray dose measured using the companies patented z-backscatter system is less than 10 µRem per scan where a µRem is 1 millionth of a Rem. From the above EPA table, 5 Rem is suggested as a level for adult safety. So in theory the radiation impact on us is minimal.

Rapiscan via their Secure 1000 data-sheet [7]also claims less than 10 µRem and Tek84's AIT84 with its Dual mode of operation (it incorporates both backscatter and transmission X-ray) [7] claims to be a next generation machine, this considering the fact that the Secure 1000 was invented almost two decades ago by the same person - Dr. Steven W Smith.

According to Dr Smith [8] there seems to be some misunderstanding between X-ray dose penetration and image penetration, which seems to be fuelling the varying schools of thought regarding backscatter technology and its effect on the human body.

After reading the document I still found no answer why I felt some soreness as described in Part 1, and although in theory his explanation seemed sound, I still strongly feel that there needs to be more data, and testing done to ensure the safety of this system.

Dose Penetration is a measurement of how deeply the energy from the x-ray beam is deposited into the body.[8]

Imaging Penetration describes how deep into the body the acquired image can detect objects. [8]

As a security analyst I also question the total efficacy of these systems - I believe that they suit a purpose and can identify certain substances, however, those of you who profile and conduct counterterrorism exercises will know exactly where I am coming from when I question the total efficacy of these systems.

A paper [9] on hidden object identification by Tribe, Newnham,Taday and Kemp of TeraView Limited states:

It is unclear whether backscatter or millimeter wave imaging can provide spectroscopic substance identification. Thus, X-ray and millimeter wave portals are likely to prompt frequent further searching whenever an image indicates a suspect item or area.

The researchers proposed using an alternative system that taps into the radiation at terahertz frequencies. Terahertz frequencies according to them possesses unique properties that may be advantageous for security applications, as this spectrum not only penetrates many non-conducting materials, but is non-ionising unlike x-ray.

Such a system will also allow radar-like imaging in three dimensions, as well as a simultaneous collection of spectroscopic information. (With Spectroscopy specific signatures of varying chemicals can be identified).

This system will not only reduce the stress and aggravation with an airport scan, but will allow for increased efficiency in the screening process. Travelers need not remove their shoes -speeding up the line, more data can be collected with an improved overview for the screener. There will also be reduced anxiety on the part of travellers regarding the harmful effects of radiation.

Click here for a link to calculate your radiation dose.









[9]Hidden object detection: security applications of terahertz technology;Terahertz and Gigahertz Electronics and Photonics III, edited by R. Jennifer Hwu, Proc. of SPIE Vol. 5354 (SPIE, Bellingham, WA, 2004)

More Stories By Jon Shende

Jon RG Shende is an executive with over 18 years of industry experience. He commenced his career, in the medical arena, then moved into the Oil and Gas environment where he was introduced to SCADA and network technologies,also becoming certified in Industrial Pump and Valve repairs. Jon gained global experience over his career working within several verticals to include pharma, medical sales and marketing services as well as within the technology services environment, eventually becoming the youngest VP of an international enterprise. He is a graduate of the University of Oxford, holds a Masters certificate in Business Administration, as well as an MSc in IT Security, specializing in Computer Crime and Forensics with a thesis on security in the Cloud. Jon, well versed with the technology startup and mid sized venture ecosystems, has contributed at the C and Senior Director level for former clients. As an IT Security Executive, Jon has experience with Virtualization,Strategy, Governance,Risk Management, Continuity and Compliance. He was an early adopter of web-services, web-based tools and successfully beta tested a remote assistance and support software for a major telecom. Within the realm of sales, marketing and business development, Jon earned commendations for turnaround strategies within the services and pharma industry. For one pharma contract he was responsibe for bringing low performing districts up to number 1 rankings for consecutive quarters; as well as outperforming quotas from 125% up to 314%. Part of this was achieved by working closely with sales and marketing teams to ensure message and product placement were on point. Professionally he is a Fellow of the BCS Chartered Institute for IT, an HITRUST Certified CSF Practitioner and holds the CITP and CRISC certifications.Jon Shende currently works as a Senior Director for a CSP. A recognised thought Leader, Jon has been invited to speak for the SANs Institute, has spoken at Cloud Expo in New York as well as sat on a panel at Cloud Expo Santa Clara, and has been an Ernst and Young CPE conference speaker. His personal blog is located at "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit."

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