Thesis Statement – Airport Body Scanners

Posted: August 7th, 2013








Airport Body Scanners







Airport Body Scanners


a. Audience hook: The advent of these full-body imaging devices at airport terminals is a direct violation of privacy rights and poses a health risk on the passengers and officers operating these machines. Contrary to widely held beliefs, several physicians have come out against the use of radio waves at that frequency. The Transportation Security Administration has come out to support the safety measures imposed at airport terminals as safe for use and necessary to combat terrorism on American soil.

b. Thesis statement: Research suggests that airport body scanners are dangerous to your health because of ionizing radiation could be harmful to your health and is an invasion of your privacy.

c. Main points:

  1.                                  i.            Since the 9/11 bombing attacks, the U.S. government has tried to increase the safety measures at airports and on airplanes to mitigate the risk of hijacking of airplanes, innocent passengers and crew by terrorist as happened during the 9/11 attacks. This has meant increasingly stringent measures at airport terminals to increase the likelihood of stopping a potential terrorist attack. The security at airports has been beefed up with the formation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security. This was to bring the security services under a single entity as compared to the different security agencies employed by individual airport authorities (Guttman, 2010).
  2.                                ii.            The TSA has managed to streamline and standardize security services and procedures across the United States. The introduction of different procedures at airports has seen passengers remove shoes, untuck shirts and submit to random questioning at patdowns in suspicious circumstances. Canine teams are employed to inspect luggage and airplanes to ensure drugs and bombs are not being smuggled into or out of the country. The TSA started to install full-body scanner at airports. Other methods include a patdown in case the passenger refuses the patdown, although this is not available in all airports. Complete refusal to submit to these preventative security measures may lead to prohibition to fly (Cavoukian, 2009).
  3.                               iii.            Use of this invasive technique under the guise of security and national safety has come under attack. The full-body scanner emits ionizing radiation that permeates a few centimeters into the skin and then exits, leaving a chalk outline of the individual. The operator of the machine sees the image of the individual on a monitor. These images are stored in the scanners hard drive despite TSA regulation that opposes the storage of such images. The naked image of the individual’s skin is visible to the operator, along with any prosthetics or medical equipment that is normally hidden from view.
  4.                              iv.            Opposers of full-body scans have cited the health risks associated with the use of ionizing radiation to create the images as harmful. TSA does not necessarily exempt persons from scans and the general application of the irradiative energy to a broad range of persons including pregnant women and children. It is in contravention of advisories from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organization, who have stated that backscatter x-rays are not safe for use by the aforementioned groups of people. The TSA have published their own reports claiming that the scanners are safe for use. These reports have been contested by various experts in the medical and physics fields (Sedat, 2010).
  5.                                v.            There have emerged reports that the scanners are causing an increase in cancer cases among the TSA security officers because of prolonged exposure to the devices. This raises concerns over the health of the security personnel and the safety risks involved in the use of the equipment. The question of maintenance of the scanners has been raised, most notably by a group of world-renown scientists from the University of California. The dosage and intensity of the scanners’ radiation has not been characterized to cater to the different individuals using the scanners based on their body weight to volume ratios. This is contrasted to what happens in a hospital setting if one were to undergo radiation exposure (Sedat, 2010).
  6.                              vi.            The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution makes search and seizure activities of any local, state or federal officer illegal. There should be a warrant issue by a court of law to enforce a search warrant. The searches conducted at airport terminals are in most cases mandatory, and all passengers are submitted to these invasive searches without any just cause. This is an illegal activity carried out by an agency reported, on various occasions, for its insensitivity when dealing with the travelers at airports. Disregard is given to the personal or religious views of the individual (EHRC, 2010). The government has managed, through the TSA, to invade the privacy of travelers in breach of their universally accepted rights to privacy.
  7.                             vii.            In the virtual searches conducted, the government has taken a stance that all travelers are potential threats to the safety and security of the nation. The maxim adopted stated is that all are guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence is paramount to any democracy. The American government treats its citizenry and visitors with suspicion; hence, the need for strip-searches without basis. The threat of potential terrorist attacks to the country has made the government overlook the rights of the individuals that are enshrined in the constitution. The obvious result of this attitude and hard-line stance is gross human rights violations (Cavoukian, 2009). Planned legislation to make searches with full-body scanners is evidence to this.


Images stored on the scanners’ hard discs have come into public knowledge, with the expected negative reaction. The TSA claims that the images derived from the scanners are not stored have proved to be untrue after numerous images were leaked online. Images obtained by the scanners are explicit, and the fact that minors are obliged to go through these scanners has raise alarm over the possibility of child pornography stemming from these images. It is indecent to compel a parent to allow their children to such risks. The safety of the nation is essential, but the well-being of the citizens should not be exploited to that end. Even minors are not protected from the invasion of their privacy. Parents’ rights are abused through coercion.

Audience Questions

Question 1: What is the opponents’ biggest concern?

Those against the use of full-body scanners that use backscatter x-rays cite the invasion of privacy as their greatest concern. The images created show the individual’s nudity, just as one would appear without clothing. This has caused consternation among a number of individuals as it breaches their right to privacy. This is a universal right. Would-be passengers at airports are forcibly stripped naked, albeit virtually, under the context of national security purposes. The protection of American soil from external attacks is an endeavor worth supporting, but not at the expense of the rights of individuals without any probable cause.

Question 2: Why does the public accept this?

The government has succeeded in driving fear into the citizens so that any excessive invasion into their privacy seems justified. Other measures they can adopt to reduce the invasion of privacy and health risks involved in the use of full-body scanners. Israel has used profiling with success. The U.S. should look into innovative ways to circumvent this procedure but still monitor traffic at the airports.

Question 3: Are there ways to remedy this injustice on innocent travelers?

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has filed suits against the deployment and use of full-body scanners at airports. Legislation in states like Idaho is being debated. Passage would prohibit the use of the full-body scanners as the primary mode of screening. It is suggested that they should only de used when other methods such as metal detectors have roused suspicion in the security personnel.





Visual Aid


Visual Aid Description

A pie chart was chosen as a more appealing type of visual aid because the information is expressed in a more processable way.

Visual Aid Script

The pie chart shows the distribution of reactions to the full-body scanners. The results are from a poll conducted by the Social Science Research Solutions of Media for the Washington Post and ABC (Cohen and Halsey, 2010). It shows that approximately two thirds of Americans support the use of full body scanners. The issue of privacy is obviously overridden by security concerns. The Christmas bomber in Detroit may have raised the concerns of Americans to this extent. Various health concerns raised since the installation of the scanners does not seem to have caused serious concerns for those polled.


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