Are Airport Full-Body Scanners Dangerous?


Can I prove this to you? Not exactly, because I was not allowed to see my own image when I went through a scanner at Los Angeles International Airport recently. Conspiracy-minded folks may say "Aha!" but others, myself included, may take some solace from my failure to see the image: the TSA appears to be very serious about not allowing anyone access to such images other than the officer who works that detail.

And for the record, the TSA does not keep or store these images -- which as you might imagine, doesn't make law enforcement real happy -- plus, TSA officers who look at them cannot have cell phones, cameras or any recording devices with them in the small room where the images are displayed.

And just so you know, these security rooms are well away from the actual body scanning machines, so it's not like some TSA officer is going to pop his head out the door, stare at a passenger and say something like, "Hey, I wonder if that's the guy who just came through the line who looks like he needs to lose a few pounds." These officers do not see the objects of their scrutiny.

But here's the crux of the matter: do body scans do what they need to do?

I asked Melendez if such a machine would have detected explosives on last year's so-called underwear bomber who was arrested on Christmas Day after allegedly attempting to set off a bomb on a Northwest Airlines plane. He told me, "That's one of those questions that is impossible to answer. I can tell you the technology would make it a lot easier."

So where do I stand on the TSA's Advanced Imaging Technology? Still on the fence.

I prefer it to the full pat-down, which I found professional but uh, intrusive to say the least, and yes, a little embarrassing. But if given the choice between scan, pat-down and metal detector, I'll take the metal detector every time.

Are body imagine machines safe? I'm no scientist, but other products once thought to be completely benign like say, asbestos, have proven otherwise. On the other hand, there have been big concerns about cell phones, but those towers keep going up.

If I have to, I will go through the body scanner -- with some minor misgivings.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.

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