Scientists at Wright State University are working on a new kind of passive identity verification system that works by scanning skeletal features and comparing them against a database of known terrorists, pedophiles and other security threats.
Aside from the obvious privacy and civil liberty concerns that such a system raises, this idea could pose serious public health risks. The researchers at Wright State University are considering using either X-ray or gamma ray radiation to scan people’s bone structure, both of which have been classified as carcinogens by the NIH since 2005.
While organizations like the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the American College of Radiology have declared full-body scanners “safe,” other regulatory bodies like the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization have recommended that pregnant women and children not be subjected to full-body scans. The EPA has also reported that frequent exposure to low-dosage radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects.
It’s fair to say there is a debate in the scientific community as to whether the low-energy “backscatter” x-rays used in most full-body scanners at airports pose long-term health risks to travelers. However, the amount of energy required to penetrate clothing is significantly less than the energy required to penetrate skin and flesh.
Any skeletal scanning system will need higher-frequency and higher-energy radiation to operate effectively, and with ionizing radiation like gamma or x-rays, higher energy levels means a greater health risk. Think about the last time you got an x-ray. Did you have to put on a lead apron? Did the technician stand behind a radiation shield?
Hopefully, this project will fizzle out before airport kiosks start selling lead-lined ponchos.