In EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security, Case No. 10-01992(EBJ) (D.D.C. filed Nov. 19, 2010), EPIC has sought the release of documents regarding radiation risks posed by airport full body scanners.
In February 2007, the Transportation Security Administration, a component of the US Department of Homeland Security, began testing full body scanners – also called “whole body imaging,” and “advanced imaging technology” – to screen air travelers. Full body scanners produce detailed, three-dimensional images of individuals. Security experts have described full body scanners as the equivalent of “a physically invasive strip-search.”
TSA is using full body scanner systems at airport security checkpoints, screening passengers before they board flights.The agency provided various assurances regarding its use of full body scanners. TSA stated that full body scanners would not be mandatory for passengers and that images produced by the machines would not be stored, transmitted, or printed. A previous EPIC FOIA lawsuit against DHS revealed that TSA’s body scanner images can be stored and transmitted.
On February 18, 2009, TSA announced that it would require passengers at six airports to submit to full body scanners in place of the standard metal detector search, which contravenes its earlier statements that full body scanners would not be mandatory. On April 6, 2009, TSA announced its plans to expand the mandatory use of full body scanners to all airports.
On June 4, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR 2200, a bill that would limit the use of whole body imaging systems in airports. The bill prevents use of whole body imaging technology for primary screening purposes.HR 2200 was referred to the Senate for consideration on June 8, 2009. The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. TSA renewed its call for mandatory body scans for all air travelers in the wake of the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253, which traveled from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009.
Experts have questioned the safety of full body scanners and noted that radiation exposure from devices like full body scanner increases individuals’ cancer risk. No independent study has been conducted on the health risks of full body scanners.
In April 2010, scientists at the University of California – San Francisco wrote to President Obama, calling for an independent review of the full body scanners’ radiation risks. The experts noted that children, pregnant women, and the elderly are especially at risk “from the mutagenic effects of the [body scanners’] X-rays.” Dr. David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research and a professor of radiation biophysics, has warned “it’s very likely that some number of [air travelers] will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners.” Peter Rez, a professor of physics at Arizona State University, has identified cancer risks to air travelers arising from improper maintenance and flawed operation of the TSA’s full body scanners. Other scientists and radiology experts have also identified serious health risks associated with the full body scanner program, including increased cancer risk to American travelers.
EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act Requests and Subsequent Lawsuit
On July 13, 2010, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for agency records that directly relate to the radiation risks posed by TSA’s full body scanner program. EPIC requested the following agency records:
All records concerning TSA tests regarding body scanners and radiation emission or exposure;
All records concerning third party tests regarding body scanners and radiation emission or exposure.
DHS acknowledged receipt of EPIC’s FOIA request, but failed to disclose any documents. On November 19, 2010, EPIC sued DHS to force disclosure of the body scanner radiation documents. The suit challenged DHS’s failure to disclose public records and failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. On the heels of EPIC’s lawsuit, DHS disclosed key documents, including test results that indicated full body scanners could be emitting more radiation than the TSA claims. DHS failed to produce all records demanded in EPIC’s FOIA request. The lawsuit is ongoing.
Documents Obtained by EPIC Through Its Lawsuit
On June 24, 2011, EPIC released documents obtained from DHS as a result of EPIC’s lawsuit.
The disclosed documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests.
The documents raise new questions concerning the radiation risks posed by the TSA full body scanner program. The records demonstrate:
TSA employees have identified cancer clusters allegedly linked to radiation exposure while operating body scanners and other screening technology. However, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters – safety devices that would warn of radiation exposure.
The DHS has publicly mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners. NIST stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test full body scanners for safety, and that the Institute does not do product testing.
A Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”
A NIST study warns airport screeners to avoid standing next to full body scanners.
EPIC v. the Department of Homeland Security, Case No. 10-01992(EBJ) (D.D.C. filed Nov. 19, 2010)