Monday, December 12, 2011

When will it be curtains for airport scanners here?

I don't normally go off on tangential rants of the political variety on the record, but this topic has kept my blood simmering ever since I started thinking about the different variety of comedy and tragedy acts currently on tour in America's security theatre after reading about the ban of airport x-ray scanners across Europe last month. (EU Bans Airport X-Ray ScannersOver Health Concerns)

I still can't believe these machines are in use at our airports. When I see news stories like this, it just adds fuel to the fire in the argument that new technologies or advances in human convenience occur only because there are dollar signs involved.  The safety, welfare, and communal benefit of everyday people once again takes a backseat to a big wig profiteering somehow over a concept that had a big enough advertising budget to scare people into sacrificing their precious DNA in the name of security.  Or maybe the whole shoving of the body scanners down our throats (or should we say, pants) was and still is, nothing more than a power trip the top percent use to essentially communicate to everyone just how much money can and will talk.

As you may recall, in 2005, Michael Chertoff, as head of Homeland Security, ordered the first batch of porno scanners from a company called Rapiscan Systems. After his departure, Chertoff gave dozens of interviews using his government credentials to promote the device. What he didn’t tell people was that Rapiscan was one of the clients of his consulting company, The Chertoff group.   So the government gave Chertoff’s business clients a $350 million contract to rush the machines into U.S. airports.  What's good for the USA is just fine to be imposed on the rest of the world, right?  We like to think we know everything.

Well, at least in Europe, not anymore bub.  Just as Germany excommunicated Walmart from their land about 5 years ago, so did the European Union decide to ban airport x-ray scanners over health concerns.  Walmart showed itself out of Germany's doors because things were inadvertently done the the "Walmart Way" without enough consideration for local customs, among other reasons.  For example, Wal-Mart offered services such as grocery bagging. It turned out that Germans didn't want strangers handling their groceries. And when clerks followed orders to smile at shoppers, male customers took it as a come-on.  Imagine: a peoples' victory-over CUSTOMS!  But the issue at hand involves a lot more than just local customs; this is your life and death we are talking about, not just what is offensive at an observational level.  Shouldn't that be enough for a recall of these machines?  This is so outrageous.  

So the EU bans the airport porno scanners over health concerns.  Or should I say, BECAUSE of health concerns. Health concerns, oddly enough, seem to rule a little more heavy-handedly across the ocean than they do here.  In May of this year, Mother Jones dared to ask, "Why won't TSA make its scanners available for independent scientific assessment—the same kind of assessment required for medical imaging machines?"  In other words, why can't the American public see what the risks to their health are before being forced to stand in one of these machines?  It isn't difficult to suppose that obviously, they have something quite substantial to hide.  As Mother Jones stated, ..." the independent testing of the safety of these specific scanners has not been rigorous nor has it been held to the standards usually associated with new devices before approval for utilization in the public sector."  The same logic that the FDA and pharmaceutical companies use could apply here. It's cheaper for corporations to pay fines for accidental deaths and injuries than to do the actual 3rd party testing to see if a product is indeed safe for consumption or use. 

After all, it was only 7 years ago that Merck withdrew the drug Vioxx after disclosures that it withheld information about its risks from doctors and patients for over five years, resulting in between 88,000 and 140,000 cases of serious heart disease. And all of it in the name of profit:  In the year before withdrawal, Merck had sales revenue of US$2.5 billion from Vioxx.  Slick advertising coupled with a very large budget does a great job of selling the American people things they think they need, healthy or not.

So now I have to wonder, how many TSA workers, frequent fliers, or the incidental one-time flier will get cancer this year from filing through airport "security"?  The message here is simply this: Get your information from reliable, 3rd-party sources to make your own decisions about your health.  Of course, there's no disputing scientific facts, but you have to sometimes dig to get what you're looking for.  And opt out, if you must.  If everyone chooses a pat-down, we'll start making progress as a collective and angry bunch of airline passengers.

So when will it be curtains for airport scanners here?


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