Thursday, June 12, 2008

Airport scanners, microwaves, patents and penile implants

A recent yahoo news post on the new body scanners enclosed at booths at airports includes the text:

The booths close around the passenger and emit "millimeter waves" that go through cloth to identify metal, plastics, ceramics, chemical materials and explosives, according to the TSA.


"People have no idea how graphic the images are," Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union, told AFP.

The ACLU said in a statement that passengers expecting privacy underneath their clothing "should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes and the size of their breasts or genitals as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane."

For those that missed the euphemism inherent in the tag "millimeter wave," a millimeter wave is a microwave. For example, electromagnetic radiation at 30 GHz would have a wavelength of about 10 mm, or a little less than half an inch.

Yes, there is a patent angle. For example, see US 6,891,381, titled Human body: scanning, typing and profiling system, with the first two sentences of the abstract stating:

A body scanning measurement, typing and profiling apparatus and method utilizing microwave energy. Microwaves are used to measure the size and shape of an individual.

The yahoo story noted: The installation [of the microwave machines] is picking up this month, with machines in place or planned for airports in Washington (Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International), Dallas, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Miami and Detroit.


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