TSA workers are blaming body scanners for cancer; D.C. public interest group calls for independent reviews

Workers for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) from locations around the country are reporting higher-than-usual rates of cancer, strokes and heart disease amongst employees who work on or near new full-body scanners.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, D.C. recently obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act that shows TSA employees at Boston’s Logan International Airport reported a suspected “cancer cluster” to their supervisors, only to have the higher-ups downplay the problem and refuse their request for dosimeters, badges that monitor radiation exposure and are routinely used in other industries where workers come in contact with X-rays and other potentially harmful forms of radiation, states Seattle Weekly.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners at US airports, pending an independent review.

TSA’s official statement is that they have “implemented stringent safety protocols to ensure that technology used at airports to screen people and property is safe for all passengers, as well as the TSA workforce.”

Still, existing studies cannot confirm or deny that the full body scanners are safe. Are frequent travelers also at risk?

“We’ve said to TSA, ‘If there’s all this info that you have that can show people than they’re not at risk, that the levels are that low, why not share that information?’ It has given employees the idea that if they’re not given the information, there must be something to hide,” said Milly Rodriguez, an occupational health and safety specialist for the American Federation of Government Employees.

Reports from Johns Hopkins University and the National Institute of Standards and Technology–both of which were “publicly characterized” by TSA, according to EPIC–found that the radiation from the scanners could exceed the “general public dose limit.”

Still, proving a direct correlation between radiation emitted from the scanners and cancer or disease in any working population is difficult.

“[Cancer clusters] are very difficult to show,” Rodriguez told Seattle Weekly yesterday. “There are so many things that can cause cancer in a group of workers. They live in same community, so it could be something there. They’re all in similar age groups. It’s just so difficult to isolate the cause.”

[Image via Flickr user Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com]

Feds cop to airport scanner porn

The feds are keeping an archive of under-the-flesh security shots. Though the TSA has said in the past that airport body scans can’t be stored or recorded, some agencies are now revealing archives of the revealing. Well, that isn’t true after all, according to CNET:

Now it turns out that some police agencies are storing the controversial images after all. The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

The TSA, it seems, requires all airport body scanners to be able to store images and transmit them – strange for a device that is supposed to do neither for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” Don’t worry, though. The TSA says these capabilities aren’t “normally activated when the devices are installed at airports,” reports CNET.

Translation: “Trust us. We could do something bad … but we won’t.”

So, next time you fly and fear that images of your privates may end up being stored somewhere, consider sticking some “Flying Pasties” to your unmentionables.So, how much security porn has been accumulated? According to William Bordley, associate general counsel with the U.S. Marshals Service says: 35,314 images in an Orlando, Florida courthouse. The device can store up to 40,000 images.

Relax, says the TSA. It’ Constitutional:

“The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events.”

What are “individual sensibilities”? I think I’ll go with Justice Potter Stewart on this one: I know it when I see it.

[Photo credit: ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images]