The full-body scanners being rolled out at security checkpoints in U.S. airports are either of the millimeter-wave type, which uses radio frequency waves, or the backscatter X-ray type, which uses ionizing radiation — and which has effectively been banned from use in European airports.
The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports, parting ways with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which has deployed hundreds of the scanners as a way to screen millions of airline passengers for explosives hidden under clothing.
The European Commission, which enforces common policies of the EU’s 27 member countries, adopted the rule “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”
The backscatter scanners have been the subject of heated debate, with the TSA and other supporters saying that the amount of radiation used in the scan is minimal and harmless, while others say that the radiation hasn’t been accurately measured or that there are concerns about what would happen if one of these scanners malfunctioned.
Five-hundred body scanners, split about evenly between the two technologies, are deployed in U.S. airports. The X-ray scanner, or backscatter, which looks like two large blue boxes, is used at major airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago’s O’Hare. The millimeter-wave scanner, which looks like a round glass booth, is used in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas.
Within three years, the TSA plans to deploy 1,800 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, covering nearly every domestic airport security lane. The TSA has not yet released details on the exact breakdown.
The EU has allowed airports in UK to continue testing them, but travelers to Europe need not be worried anymore.