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Inside a Full-Body-Scanning X-Ray Van 313

Posted by Soulskill
from the seeing-right-through-you dept.
Velcroman1 writes "In August, Slashdotters learned that full-body scanners were roaming the streets in vans: 'The same technology used at airport check points, capable of seeing through clothes and walls, has also been rolling out on US streets where law enforcement agencies have deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs. Fox took a ride in one of the $800,000 vans, videotaping the entire event — and continues the debate about security, privacy, and health risks."
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Inside a Full-Body-Scanning X-Ray Van

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  • Purpose? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xnpu (963139) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:26PM (#34015614)

    Come on, tell me, what's the real purpose of this stuff? 8 million flights without a successful terrorist attack since 9/11. All attempts either simply failed or were prevented using pre-9/11 technology, yet we still get these naked body scanners.

    Now we also need them roaming the streets? "Hey Joe, hottie on your six, make a turn and flip the switch boy, let's see what she's got!". Anything else doesn't come near a justification.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      Cops always have the best porn!
      • by dwillden (521345)
        Except they also get the 80 year old grandmother walking along with the hottie. And the fat shop keeper sweeping the steps of his shop.

        Is the hottie worth the risk of seeing the eye burning imagaes of the non-hotties also roaming the streets?
    • Re:Purpose? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Pojut (1027544) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:29PM (#34015632) Homepage

      But...b-b-b-but....manufacturing and surveillance jobs!

    • Come on, tell me, what's the real purpose of this stuff? 8 million flights without a successful terrorist attack since 9/11. All attempts either simply failed or were prevented using pre-9/11 technology, yet we still get these naked body scanners.

      Now we also need them roaming the streets? "Hey Joe, hottie on your six, make a turn and flip the switch boy, let's see what she's got!". Anything else doesn't come near a justification.

      Next there will be a $5 Bear Patrol tax...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by LWATCDR (28044)

      I guess it works. Your statement about 8 million flights without a successful terrorist attack almost sounds like an endorsement.

    • Re:Purpose? (Score:5, Funny)

      by gox (1595435) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:43PM (#34015810)

      8 million flights without a successful terrorist attack since 9/11.

      Stop these "measures", and attacks will resume. The whole purpose of terrorism is to, well, cause fear, and what's better than having the State do it for you?

      The best way to avoid terrorism is to live in fear all the time.

      • Re:Purpose? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by anyGould (1295481) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:47PM (#34015854)

        The best way to avoid terrorism is to live in fear all the time.

        Of course, private business could generate just as much fear as the government, but with much lower cost to the private citizen...

        Support deprivatization of the fear industry!

        • The best way to avoid terrorism is to live in fear all the time.

          Of course, private business could generate just as much fear as the government, but with much lower cost to the private citizen...

          Support deprivatization of the fear industry!

          Brilliant. Truly brilliant

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by xnpu (963139)

        By why avoid it? Terrorism is way down on the list causes of death. Use that cash to fight obesity or cancer and you'll save a lot more lives.

        Oh wait, seeing someone smile because they're cured of something horrible is not even remotely as fun as humiliating someone by having them take of their shoes and go through the nudy booth. Besides, saving the boob mama's to disk is still saving people.. sorta, right?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by postbigbang (761081)

        Living in fear all of the time is a neurosis for some, and psychosis for others.

        You really believe that these measures are somehow abetting freedom, or liberty? They were a great excuse for a paranoid administration to lay seige on Americans, and heaven-forbid anyone wanting to come to the US. It was a great excuse to tromp and trump freedom, the US Constitution, and give bullies everywhere the Fear Card.

        • Yes, the Republicans are completely in favor of individual liberty, until you want to do anything other than what they want you to do at which point you're clearly un-American because they're the only true Americans and they know what's best for us.

          Security threats are real; anyone who grew up in a big city knows this, especially at closing time. Security theater has long been with us; anyone who learned to "duck and cover" under their desk for a missile attack knows this. Using real security threats a
    • Because shipping containers and semi-trailers were exclusively lottery based inspections. With scanners like these most shipping containers and semi-trailers can be inspected at the port while shortening the delay that a physical inspection usually causes.

      Now we also need them roaming the streets?

      I didn't see anything in the slideshow that indicated that these were roaming the streets. I see this being used in a container yard or shipping hub which are places that US Customs and Border Protection actually p

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by xnpu (963139)

        The original article suggests otherwise: http://blogs.forbes.com/andygreenberg/2010/08/24/full-body-scan-technology-deployed-in-street-roving-vans/ [forbes.com]

        Though only time will tell.

        • by Americano (920576)

          In fairness, the article ONLY 'suggests' otherwise. It doesn't report that these vans are 'roaming the streets,' or at least doesn't present any credible evidence of that. It simply says that they're being sold in vans which are certainly *capable* of 'roving the streets,' but there is nothing to suggest that they actually are.

          Most of the article about its use indicates that it's being used in ports to scan incoming containers & vehicles, not just randomly driving down the street looking for a good T

        • The article had a sensationalist headline.

          It also had this line"The same technology, capable of seeing through clothes and walls, has also been rolling out on U.S. streets." Yet it didn't provide any details of which agency nor where in the US to back up that statement.

          The rest of the article talks about the US using it in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to inspect cargo at ports. It appeared his only source was an ASE salesperson.

    • by icebike (68054)

      Come on, tell me, what's the real purpose of this stuff? 8 million flights without a successful terrorist attack since 9/11.

      I read TFA, (I know, I know), and reference to air flights was fleeting to the point of non-existent.

      Smuggled drugs, bombs, and people were the focus.

      Your raising the issue of Air safety, and then smacking it down is excellent Straw Man technique.

      Well played sir.

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      It's probably been a while since you've gotten into a car accident? Have you ditched the seatbelt yet? :)

      You're not going to see these going down the street ahead of the ice cream truck. This is probably more for Presidential appearances or events where there's fuel for controversy.
  • by explosivejared (1186049) * <hagan DOT jared AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:27PM (#34015620)
    It's definitely a dumb idea to have these things just roaming the streets, and that's without even considering the privacy concerns. It's absurdly hard to actually identify items that only rarely occur, say weapons, in samples like this. The human eye just isn't that good at it. It gets worse the more samples you take. The only place I can see for this is scanning at the border where people being smuggled in would be pretty obvious. At the border, a search like this makes sense since by law it's necessary to declare many items that you bring into a country. Otherwise, not only is it mostly a waste of time, but a dead ringer for an unreasonable search. The article was light on just how prevalent their use is outside of ports and points of entry, so it's hard to say if there's any serious danger to the average person on the street. Also, health concerns are probably overblown. If the dose is in micro Sv, that's a small fraction of the regular background dose.
  • You know those wrist watches that measure UV and tell you when you've been in the sun too long? Add x-ray.
    • You know those wrist watches that measure UV and tell you when you've been in the sun too long?

      Nope

    • by vlm (69642)

      Whats a "watch"? I haven't seen anyone wearing one since the 90s

      • It's a little thing I wear on my wrist to tell the time so I don't have to dig my cellphone out of my pocket. :)

  • Health risk (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheLink (130905) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:32PM (#34015678) Journal

    AS&E says the system is safe for operators and subjects, and that "one scan of the ZBV is equivalent to flying in an airplane at altitude for two minutes."

    and my general understanding is even if you were exposed to a dosage from one of these machines, it would be equivalent to a chest x-ray or less," McCabe told FoxNews.com.

    The above two are not the same. Assuming normal airline altitudes, it takes hours of flying to get the equivalent radiation dose of a chest x-ray.

    "It was a secondary screening mechanism for trucks going into a loading dock

    So if your job requires you to drive a truck into the loading dock every day, it better be much lower than "chest x ray" levels.

    Some related discussion here: http://ask.metafilter.com/142917/Cumulative-backscatter-Xray-risk [metafilter.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
      What risk? Yer all a bunch of whiners. You've all been to the dentist for a tooth x-ray, just imagine the dentist had to take the picture over and over and over and over...

      Is that so much to ask for safety???
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ron Bennett (14590)

      As you point out, for those regularly exposed to such machines, the health risk may be considerable. Also, presumably, the vans operate at a higher power / intensity than airport scanner units.

      Also, how is the x-ray energy distributed? ... evenly or in intense beam(s) that could potentially, at times, far exceed the normal stated output rating.

      On a related note, how reliable is the software / interlocks to prevent unintended excess output? - this has been a longtime, persistent problem with various diagnost

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by JWSmythe (446288)

        [sarcasm]

            There was no problem with the Therac-25. The problem was that the targets being examined had too low of a tolerance to radiation.

            [/sarcasm]

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      The above two are not the same. Assuming normal airline altitudes, it takes hours of flying to get the equivalent radiation dose of a chest x-ray.

      Well, the last few flights I took lasted hours. I've been on literally dozens of flights that have lasted hours.

      "Hours" is probably one of the least useful metrics you could have included there. Hundreds of hours? Thousands of hours? One Million Hours?

      I mean, anybody who has done a fair amount of travel has been aloft for easily a hundred hours -- I'm damned s

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by i.am.delf (1665555)
      If you proposed something like this as part of a medical research proposal it would get shot down. Exposure to x-rays, no matter the dose, always carries the risk of mutation and transformation to a tumorigenic state. Exposing these people to ionizing radiation without medical benefit nor consent is equivalent to shooting influenza at them. Most of the people will be just fine, but is it acceptable if 1 in 1,000 dies from a complication? 1 in 100,000? In practice the estimate of the radiation dose of t
  • Looked at the article. They have no sample pictures posted there.

    [A public service announcement for the benefit of the slashdot community]

    • You looked at the article, but did you watch the video [foxnews.com]?

      The video includes several images of cars, showing suspicious cargo. No pictures of a scanned house, however.

      • by zero0ne (1309517)

        They don't show homes probably because they know they would be destroyed in court if they did (Kyllo vs. US). The cars are on a public street so it is fair game.

    • There's a slideshow at the top of the article showing vehicles and packages with things hidden in them, for packages comparing the backscatter to conventional scans.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:36PM (#34015720)

    Remind me again why we haven't burned DC to the ground yet? How can ANYONE, of ANY political affiliation, see this shit and not be completely outraged?

    • They still support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, despite overwhelming evidence that the US is and continues to be exactly the cynical torturer that the worst voices in Europe have said. That is to say: YOU'RE ALL BLEEDING HYPOCRITES.

    • by Archangel Michael (180766) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:59PM (#34015988) Journal

      You really believe either of the two parties in power in the US gives a shit about you and your individual rights? Obama is just as bad as Bush was, and Clinton and Bush before them.

      The reason why people haven't burned DC down is because 90+% vote for those two parties, thinking that they are different. They are just two sides of the same coin. If you vote, and vote for "change" and yet vote for one of the two parties, and you deserve to get what you get, more of the same.

      Libertarians are outraged, but we're also marginalized to meaninglessness. Nobody cares, and that is why DC still stands.

      • 90% of people vote for the two parties because >50% of the population in spite of their protests demands the goverment do this or else they will stop voting for their representative for not 'protecting' them.

        When a majority of the voting block doesn't crucify a politician for suggesting that terrorists don't pose as great of threat as the security procedures to protect us from said terrorists we could start making progress. Remember when Obama said he wanted to make terrorism just another law enforceme

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Kozz (7764)

        You really believe either of the two parties in power in the US gives a shit about you and your individual rights? Obama is just as bad as Bush was, and Clinton and Bush before them.

        The reason why people haven't burned DC down is because 90+% vote for those two parties, thinking that they are different. They are just two sides of the same coin. If you vote, and vote for "change" and yet vote for one of the two parties, and you deserve to get what you get, more of the same.

        Libertarians are outraged, but we're also marginalized to meaninglessness. Nobody cares, and that is why DC still stands.

        Ahh, but if you're a Libertarian, and someone is burning down DC, you'll need to find out if they've paid their annual firefighting insurance payment before putting out said fire.

        (I leave it as an exercise to the reader to decide whether I'm making a joke, social commentary, both, or neither.)

    • What could go wrong? (Score:2, Informative)

      by hoboroadie (1726896)

      If you RTFA you will see that this is all for your benefit. "state privacy laws would prohibit individuals or private companies from abusing the vans, while the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement agencies from doing the same."
      See? Now calm down and get back to work, peasant.

      • If you RTFA you will see that this is all for your benefit. "state privacy laws would prohibit individuals or private companies from abusing the vans, while the Fourth Amendment prohibits law enforcement agencies from doing the same." See? Now calm down and get back to work, peasant.

        **WHEW**
        I was worried - good thing that's all cleared up now. Back to work for me...

  • by Cornwallis (1188489) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:37PM (#34015728)

    I'm gonna start carrying a mannequin in the trunk of my car.

  • Forget the hat, it's time to start wearing tinfoil underwear!

  • Illegal Search (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BlowHole666 (1152399) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:38PM (#34015748)
    Why is this not considered an illegal search? How can the government get away with just x-raying people now?
  • by Ron Bennett (14590) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:39PM (#34015756) Homepage

    This blurb in the article basically says it all...

    "Using the ZBV vans over the past couple of years, we've gotten over a thousand seizures and 89,000 pounds worth of narcotics, approximately $4 million worth of currency, and we've also uncovered 10 or 11 undeclared aliens within vehicles," said Patrick Simmons, Director of Non-Intrusive Inspection at Customs and Border Protection. "Again, we don't purposely scan for people, but if they're in there hiding, the ZBV will be able to spot them."

    While many dismiss / marginalize the threat of the drug war on people's freedoms, it's happening nevertheless. For example, there was a time when local police busting down doors was virtually unheard of - now it's common practice in all sorts of situations. Another is that people are now subjected to all sorts of demands, such providing government id / signing a form, to buy over-the-counter cough medicine. All in the name of the drug war - which is really a war against citizens.

    For anyone who believes use of such technology to search people / private property will be ruled unconstitutional, think again - drug sniffing dogs are often allowed to search one's private property, such as one's vehicle, that's accessible from the street despite no "contraband" being in plain view.

    One can practically count on such vans roaming the streets all throughout the U.S. in the near future "for your protection", but of course, much of the time, that won't be the real motivation.

    Ron

    • by b4upoo (166390)

      I wonder how we haven't heard of people with gun carry permits being stopped after one of these machines scan them. After all the machine does not know that you have a permit.
                      In some areas a scan of students cars coming into the parking lot would reveal quite a few firearms within vehicles. Both guns and dope are often sold by students one to another.

    • by eth1 (94901) on Monday October 25, 2010 @03:13PM (#34016162)

      For anyone who believes use of such technology to search people / private property will be ruled unconstitutional, think again - drug sniffing dogs are often allowed to search one's private property, such as one's vehicle, that's accessible from the street despite no "contraband" being in plain view.

      The difference with a drug dog is that they're not searching your car, they're searching the ambient air. It IS in plain "veiw" (nasally) to them. The car is basically leaking drug particles all over the place, which is glaringly obvious if you have the wetware to detect it. This is completely different from scanning the inside of a person/vehicle/house. Would a cop be out of line if he walked down the street and smelled MJ smoke when he passed a parked car, and went to investigate?

      • by misexistentialist (1537887) on Monday October 25, 2010 @03:34PM (#34016414)
        The cop could lie, and the dog could be trained to lie, which potentially subjects everyone to unacceptable harassment. With machines honesty is a generally higher--though buggy closed-sourced devices aren't very trustworthy. The problem is really the government prohibition of the possession of certain molecules. This is the invasion of liberty that all searches just make more evident. Even if we are talking about 100lbs of plastic explosives, it's not clear that cost/benefit ratio (for us, not the government) justifies making possession a crime.
      • Same thing with these machines. They don't actually go into your car with them. They "search" the ambient air, everything within your car is plain view in certain EM frequency ranges. See? The same principle could be argued for these machines as has been done with dogs.

        If I were a judge, I wouldn't be any more likely accept evidence obtained through the use of a dog than evidence obtained with the aid of fucking divining rods. Dogs easily can be coaxed into "alerting" by their handler, without raising suspi

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      I'm sure there's a pile of municipalities lining up to buy these $800k vans. I wonder if there's a discount if you buy more than 5...
  • by Syberz (1170343) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:41PM (#34015774) Homepage

    In totally unrelated news, statistics show that tall, slender and well endowed women are more prone to being terrorists, not young middle-eastern bearded men.

  • No no no no no! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by goodmanj (234846) on Monday October 25, 2010 @02:54PM (#34015930)

    Expectation of privacy. You implicitly allow search by entering an airport, but a billion court rulings state that the authorities cannot look inside your house or car without probable cause.

    X ray tech counts as a search. What kind of legal advisor could ever sign off on this?

    Besides, it's totally impractical. 15 seconds per scan? Useless in open traffic. Useless at a major event (15 sec x 10000 cars = 2 days in line to be searched).

    Useless expensive and illegal. Thanks DHS!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vux984 (928602)

      Besides, it's totally impractical. 15 seconds per scan? Useless in open traffic. Useless at a major event (15 sec x 10000 cars = 2 days in line to be searched).

      Fortunately its a parallelizable problem.

      15 sec x 10000 cars / 48 vans = 1 hour in line to be searched.
      15 sec x 10000 cars / 96 vans = 30 minutes in line

      Plus they could scan every second car and cut those times in half again. Sure they'll only hit 50% percent of the traffic, but few criminals will tolerate a 50/50 shot of being busted on the spot; so

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Bios_Hakr (68586)

        It depends on the crime. If you are talking about someone bombing a major event, then 50% odds might not be so bad. If you get through, you blow up people inside the event. If you get detected, you blow up in the middle of a gaggle of people waiting to get in. Either way, it's pretty much the same.

        And if you talk about a coordinated attack, it gets worse. Once the first guy is detected, he detonates. When the others hear the explosion, they detonate too. You have some terrorists inside the gate; some

    • Re:No no no no no! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Monday October 25, 2010 @03:10PM (#34016124) Homepage

      X ray tech counts as a search. What kind of legal advisor could ever sign off on this?

      Ever heard of Alberto Gonzales [wikipedia.org]? Look hard enough, and you can get a yes-man who will sign off on anything.

      That guy would have stripped any and all provisions in the constitution under the provision of "we're allowed to because we say so".

    • Re:No no no no no! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Ron Bennett (14590) on Monday October 25, 2010 @03:18PM (#34016240) Homepage

      Expectation of privacy. You implicitly allow search by entering an airport, but a billion court rulings state that the authorities cannot look inside your house or car without probable cause.

      Slippery-slope comes to mind. Since when did one relinquish their rights at the airport? -it wasn't always that way. And furthermore, such searches are now becoming routine on long-haul passenger trains (ie. Amtrak) and buses (Greyhound) too. And even one's own vehicle at some select locations, such as tunnel entrances.

      You're assuming the government will protect one's rights - sadly, that's often not the case. Watch some episodes of COPS for a reality check on how policing really works in the U.S. - the police state is already here.

      In addition, home monitoring technology has greatly improved and hence, the number of people under court supervision is rapidly expanding so, in turn, there's little in the way of stopping the police state of expanding ... it's easily conceivable that upwards of 10% of the adult population could in the next decade or so be under some court mandated supervision.

      Digressing, but don't think for a second, that the courts alone are going to stop technology, such as the vans, from being used for searching people / property - only a revolution, or more ideally, some power-elites, choosing to put freedom of citizens ahead of profits and power will. Anything else is wishful thinking. In the meantime, about the best one can do is be aware of these things / educate others and navigate the system best one can.

      Ron

  • Watched the video. Fox didn't get any pictures of actual scans taken while they were there. The pictures shown are from AS&E's usual set of demo pictures [as-e.com].

    They should have had scans of the reporters. But the mobile system isn't certified for personnel scans.

    It's not a significant radiation hazard beyond the recommended 9 foot approach limit. [as-e.com] But there are reasonable questions about someone close to the scanning vehicle. The Hickam AFB study did not measure the exposure directly in line with the s

  • by Caerdwyn (829058) on Monday October 25, 2010 @05:56PM (#34018344) Journal

    "Hey, what happened to our backscatter van?"

    "Well, we drove by a container full of parabolic satellite dishes, and our input stages were fried."

    It's a dream I have...

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