Monday, October 26, 2009

Airport exposure

I had a great time this weekend traveling. We drove down to Buffalo, and then flew from there out to Baltimore. We did some shopping in Baltimore, spent two days sight-seeing in Washington, and then flew back to Buffalo and drove home again. All in all a fun trip.

But at the Baltimore-Washington airport, something weird happened to me. I was randomly selected to step into this big grey booth. I was directed to step in, put my feet on the yellow footprints and raise my arms. A few seconds and it was over with. The security agent spoke into a radio, and then told me I was cleared. I figured it was some sort of scan but really didn't know what had just happened to me.

When I was cleared moments later, my husband told me it was a whole-body imaging (aka millimeter wave scanning) booth. What's that? "It scans your body like an x-ray, just under your clothes," he told me, "It's very controversial."

Yeah. No kidding. At first I thought it was funny, and overall less invasive than a physical pat-down. But I just read up on it and it basically uses ultra high frequency radio waves to send an image of your body to a computer in a closed room apart from the security screening area. Just your body. Clothes are rendered translucent. The technician viewing the image never sees the subject in person, and the security personnel with the subject never sees the image. They say images are not recorded in any way (who really knows if that's true?). It boils down to - some stranger just saw me naked. The picture you see at left is an example of what these images look like. The faces are blurred, apparently (are they? There is no way for the traveler to be sure of this), but as you can see it gives a very clear image of everything else.

There were no warnings about health risks (or privacy invasion) at all, that I could see. Nor was I told verbally about any risks, or given the option for a pat-down instead. I honestly had no idea what was happening to me. In previous travels I have gone through one of those machines that puffs air at you, captures the particulate, and analyzes that for threats. On first glance I kind of thought this machine did the same thing - until I went through it.

Now if you've been reading what's going on with me lately you will know that I am pregnant. And although this pregnancy is sure to end in miscarriage for me, I am still concerned, until that happens, about what happens with my body. So are there risks to fetuses from ultra high frequency radio waves? Are there risks to me? I couldn't find a definitive answer.

All in all I feel a little violated. If given the choice to make an informed decision about going into that booth, I would have opted for a physical pat-down. I don't like the idea that an image of my naked body was just searched visually. It gives me the creeps.

So thanks a lot, Baltimore Washington International Airport, for an icky end to an otherwise great vacation.


  1. I use to like flying until they made it misrable! Its even worse with kids! Have to take your shoes off and everything!!! I really like your blog by the way :)

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  2. Oh my goodness!! Really, this security thing has gone TOO FAR! And like you I question if they don't keep the images and the safety of having one of these done!

    And another thing that gets under my skin is the people they pick out to do these on! Like you really look like a threat *rolls eyes*

  3. I know, right? I mean, sure, ANYONE could be the next terrorist, but really... me?

  4. This is really messed up. I would call and complain and ask them about if they know if it is harmful to pregnancy

  5. I think that is awful. They should at least ask first about health risks, etc. I hope the fact that they don't means it is relaly safe. I mean, it is the States so they would probably be sued if it wasn't. But that is pretty yucky.

  6. How absolutly terrible!! If they want to randomly pick someone to screen, the person should be given the OPTION of being electronically screened OR patted down. Especially given that there was just a thing in teh news about how xrays are more dangerous than people originally thought.

    Grrr. I'd write them a complaint letter....or has an email address. Why not email them a link to this post?

  7. Thought I would tell you the good news, I won your cycle beads and have been trying to have baby #2 and with your beads help.. I am pregnant... EXCITING! Thanks so much

  8. WOW! That is just freaking crazy!!! I can't see how it is good for baby as if it is just like an X-ray well, you aren't supposed to have x-rays while pregnant so why would this be okay??? I would totally call and question...

  9. that is ridiculous! I am sorry that you had to go through that! I have never heard of this before. How is everything else going? I pray you and baby will be ok! HUGS mama!


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