Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Renewed Interest in mmWave Body Scanners

With the recent terrorist attack on the flight heading to Detroit, there is a flurry of renewed priority to install scanners that can detect small amounts of explosives hidden on the body. There are two vying technologies for body scanning, low level back scatter x-ray and millimeter wave imaging. They have been slow to catch on due to the cost, speed and privacy concerns but with this new attack, the TSA is reportedly expediting the order for 300 new machines.

It appears 150 of these were already ordered from OSI Systems' Rapiscan unit which manufactures x-ray machines. From our industry's perspective, we hope many of these are mmWave body scanning machines which provide high resolution 3D images. Companies like L-3 would benefit from this increased buying if mmWave technology is used. There are still privacy concerns but the machines have softwave that can prevent abuse. We always seem to have to give up some privacy or rights to improve security.

What do you think - which technology is better? Do the privacy concerns out weigh the security risks??


  1. I believe the privacy concern is not much to be debated by Engineers and any decisions are to be taken by administrators in consultation with civil liberty organizations etc.
    Purely from a technical point of view I prefer the non ionized method of using millimeter waves if all other parameters are comparable.

  2. > I believe the privacy concern is not much to > be debated by Engineers.

    Duh, why shouldn't Engineers be as much concerned about privacy issues as anyone else? Furthermore, being rational and educated, Engineers should have an active part in the debate. "Administrators" are not much interested in privacy; they just want a system that reduces the likelihood of the "administrator" looking bad when something goes wrong.

    To be sure, some engineers don't personally care. Others do care and have serious questions about "software that can prevent abuse". I for one would like to know how that software is "supposed" to work and who makes the control settings and how secure the software is from unauthorized tampering.

    A few years ago, there was a lot of popular discussion about how computerized voting would be so wonderful. Then we found that various machines had all sorts of problems.