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Mobile Body Scanners :Backscatter Vans

January 11, 2011

X-Ray “Backscatter Vans” Can See in your Car and Home, Feds are Radiating Americans “And not only are you no longer secure in your home but they can see your hidden guns in the wall or in the floor along with your precious metals. American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview. While the biggest buyer of AS&E’s machines over the last seven years has been the Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Reiss says law enforcement agencies have also deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs in the U.S.

“This product is now the largest selling cargo and vehicle inspection system ever,” says Reiss.

The Z Backscatter Vans, or ZBVs, as the company calls them, bounce a narrow stream of x-rays off and through nearby objects, and read which ones come back. Absorbed rays indicate dense material such as steel. Scattered rays indicate less-dense objects that can include explosives, drugs, or human bodies. That capability makes them powerful tools for security, law enforcement, and border control.

It would also seem to make the vans mobile versions of the same scanning technique that’s riled privacy advocates as it’s been deployed in airports around the country. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is currently suing the DHS to stop airport deployments of the backscatter scanners, which can reveal detailed images of human bodies. (Just how much detail became clear last May, when TSA employee Rolando Negrin was charged with assaulting a coworker who made jokes about the size of Negrin’s genitalia after Negrin received a full-body scan.)

Security experts say expanding the X-ray technology for use on American streets is a powerful counterterror strategy. They also point out the images do not not offer the kind of detail that would be embarrasing to anyone. Moreover, law enforcement already has broad search-and-seizure powers on public highways, where a search warrant is often not needed for officers to instigate a physical search.

But others worry that radiating Americans without their knowledge is evidence of gradually eroding constitutional protections in the post-9/11 age.

“Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of national security … you have to be realistic that this is another way in which the government is capturing information they may lose control over,” says Mr. Lane. “I just have some real problems with the idea of even beginning a campaign of rolling surveillance of American citizens, which is what this essentially is.”

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  1. January 18, 2011 at 11:08 am
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