Security, whether within the four walls of a house or out in the big world, is a priority and most would go great lengths to make sure that security is not compromised. American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold over 500 backscatter X-ray scanners to U.S. and foreign government agencies. Mounted in vans, these backscatter X-ray scanners can see through vehicles when driven past them, according to a Forbes report. Backscatter X-ray scanners have been a popular security checking tool increasingly deployed at places like courthouses and airport security checkpoints. The Forbes report, in an interview with Joe Reiss, Vice President of Marketing at American Science & Engineering, found that the biggest buyer of the company's machine over seven years has been has been the Department of Defense operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Z Backscatter X-ray of Truck (Image credit: American Science & Engineering, Inc.)

Z Backscatter X-ray of Truck (Image credit: American Science & Engineering, Inc.)

The ZBackscatter Vans or ZBVs bounce a narrow stream of X-rays off and through nearby objects, and read which ones come back. Rays that are absorbed imply materials dense as steel, while scattered rays are the indicators of less-dense objects, which may include explosives, drugs or human bodies. The report states, “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 show detailed images of human bodies.”

EPIC's Executive Director, Marc Rotenberg, is of the opinion that if seen from the perspective of one's privacy, then the ZBVs are “one of the most intrusive technologies conceivable.” However, AS&E’s Reiss counters by adding that the scans by the ZBVs do not capture human bodies in as much detail as done in airports and that the primary purpose is to image vehicles and their contents, “and not to identify an individual, or the race, sex or age of the person.” Although Reiss admits that the scanners will penetrate clothing to a large extent, he explains that the images of humans captured here lack features and that a lot lesser detail is obtained than from airport scans. “From a privacy standpoint, I’m hard-pressed to see what the concern or objection could be,” he states. 

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