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Feb 5, 2012

Body scanners, and the question no-one will answer

There is one question that the Australian government has refused to answer since it began trialling body scanners for international airport terminals. What happens when the machine s


There is one question that the Australian government has refused to answer since it began trialling body scanners for international airport terminals.

What happens when the machine shows up a person in full bomb vest laced with ball bearings?

Do the scanner staff  bolt for for the door shouting ‘run for your lives’, or what?

The question remains valid today with the announcement that they will be made compulsory, which is reproduced in full below.


Body scanners will be introduced at all of Australia’s international airports providing the travelling public with the most advanced passenger screening technology available in the world.

The Gillard Labor Government will introduce legislation this week following a successful trial of the technology in Sydney and Melbourne, with the new technology to be rolled out across airports from July this year.

The machines only produce a generic outline (attached) to display the location of metal and non-metal items under clothing.

To protect people’s privacy, the image will appear as a stick figure so all men will have the same outline and all women will have the same outline with no defining features.

As an additional measure, the images will not be able to be copied and will not be stored.

The ‘millimetre-wave’ body scanners are perfectly safe and one body scan is comparable to passive exposure to a mobile phone used several metres away.

Once introduced, passengers departing Australia may be required to pass through a body scanner as part of standard screening processes.

While the legislation allows exemptions for serious medical conditions, any passenger directed by an officer must undergo screening and refusal to screen will mean refusal to fly.

The Gillard Government announced a package of measures in 2010 to strengthen aviation security as a result of global events.

The $28 million package provides for new screening measures, including body scanners, at Australia’s eight international gateway airports.

Health, privacy and safety were assessed following the trial including extensive consultation with industry and privacy groups.

Australia has a safe aviation record with over 13 million people flying out of our international airports each year.

This will provide an additional layer of security at our airports and is part of the Government’s $200 million Strengthening Aviation Security Initiative.

Security is important. But so is telling people the truth, which is that when we congregate in confined spaces, whether flying to Bali, or at the grocery store, or in a pub, or a train, or at the footy, or a rock concert, or the ballet, nothing other than excellent intelligence and policing stands between us and the risk of slaughter.

Nothing. We have to get over it, and get on with life. Like our parents did in World War II.

Meaning the Australian Government spends a fortune on technology some airports like Hamburg have rejected as unworkable, which creates a target, the screening line, which has ‘Come and Get us’ written all over it. Brilliant!


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12 thoughts on “Body scanners, and the question no-one will answer

  1. Bear

    The answer is that, as we all know, the primary function of all governments in such situations of security or “lawrenorder” generally is to APPEAR to be DOING SOMETHING. Anything… doesn’t matter what or how much it costs the taxpayers, as long as there is the appearance of action.

    Remember that the percentage of air travelers who actually know or care about the realities or practicalities of the elements of the whole security theartre, is very vey small.

  2. Cat on a PC©

    Ben, you made an observation a while back about having the screening done BEFORE anyone enters the terminal. Perhaps the hypothetical situation you outline above is a good example of why screening should be done well away from where the greatest damage can be done. Perhaps also, we should follow the security screening example used at Tel Aviv. A few simple questions prior to entering the airport boundary might do more for security than a scanner situated halfway inside a terminal.

  3. Ben Sandilands

    Yes have been but one of many, many people who have drawn attention the excellence of the Israeli procedures, and I have no doubt there is more to them than many, including myself, know.

    I saw similar active crowd assessment in various parts of Europe in the 70s when the Red Army, Black September and the IRA were active too, not that they were totally successful, but they were sensible and probably far more effective than what we do today, particularly without the benefit of profiling as least in public policy announcements. I think there is a very large amount of profiling underway, but that is just my own view for various reasons.

    If this problem is going to be treated with priority beyond the outstanding work done behind the scenes, we need to implement as many elements of the Israeli practices as possible.

  4. Treenan

    “following a successful trial of the technology”

    I’d be interested in their definition of ‘successful’.

  5. TomTom

    I’d be interested in their definition of ‘successful’.

    No Grannies had their underwear checked as a result of false positives.

  6. Archer1

    I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the Brisbane Airport security boffin who yesterday confiscated 2 sets of babies cutlery that my sister had bought for my twin grandaughters and was carrying as she only had carry on luggage. Our skies are safe.

  7. Delta

    Seems like a contradiction here:
    “The ‘millimetre-wave’ body scanners are perfectly safe and one body scan is comparable to passive exposure to a mobile phone used several metres away”

    “While the legislation allows exemptions for serious medical conditions”

    So what medical conditions could be affected by exposure to a mobile phone several metres away I wonder?

  8. Dale Jackson

    A more accurate test of how these machines will work in the real world would have been to make them compulsory during the trial. People being forced to send their small children and aging rels through the scanner or not fly may well have produced a much less “successful” result.

    In the US you can choose to opt out of the scan and accept a pat down (grope or scope) – unpleasant but less unpleasant than having your freedom of choice removed entirely which is what this government is proposing! Way to win an election guys, spend millions of our dollars with an American company to install ineffective technology that nobody wants.

  9. Rufus

    Ben, the irony for me of all this ridiculous bureaucratic busywork was brought home a few months ago. I had flown out of Domededovo in Moscow a while back and, for the first time, went through the nudie scanners. They worked very efficiently and I was impressed with the technology (although catching a glimpse of the security guard’s screen I saw exactly how revealing they were). Some time later I flew into DME again and I remember that it struck me how haphazard the arrivals area was, and how vulnerable that area would be to an attack. Two months later some turd blew himself up right there and killed 37 people.

    The nudie scanners hadn’t prevented that. There’s always going to be a certain level of threat, and if we try and close off every possibility we just make our lives more miserable.

  10. Ross Will

    @Delta; you misunderstand. Medical conditions might prevent you from standing in the scanner, not from safely absorbing the emissions.

  11. discus

    Does successful mean they have not as yet given anyone cancer or hurt a foetus? Does it mean they found someone carrying a gun or a bomb? This has to be stopped.

  12. discus

    I’ll add to Archer1’s comment. My kid has a clearly plastic harmless nerf gun confiscated before boarding a flight to Sydney. He was in tears but security and safety was maintained. trying to explain to a distraught kid why his Christmas gift from his OS aunty was taken from him is quite difficult.This security bulldust is so stupid it is beyond any description. Absolute FUBAR. If Albanese really thinks this is a great idea he is in the wrong job way way beyond the Peter principle.


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