Body Scanners and Radiation Risks (EPIC FOIA Request)
EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a component of the Department of Homeland Security, to obtain information about the radiation emissions and exposure created by full body scanners (FBS).
EPIC is seeking these documents as the transportation agency is accelerating deployment of body scanners in US airports.
Three US Senators recently urged Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano to have the agency’s Chief Medical Officer and other independent experts evaluate the health impacts of the devices.
Radiation experts have also questioned the safety of body scanner devices, and identified several groups of people - including children and pregnant women - as being especially at risk. Columbia University Professor David Brenner, who served on a government expert panel, said that air travelers will be exposed to far more radiation than the agency has admitted.
Based on these health concerns, as well as privacy problems and freedom of religion issues, EPIC has filed a separate suit against DHS, urging a federal court to suspend the airport body scanner program.
- EPIC Appeals FOIA Decisions Concerning Body Scanner Information: EPIC has filed appeals in two Freedom of Information Act cases seeking documents related to airport body scanners from the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. EPIC filed FOIA requests with the agencies seeking records related to radiation risks from body scanners and the threat detection software the machines use. The TSA is currently developing formal rules for the use of body scanners in response to a court order in one of EPIC's previous cases. Body scanners allow routine digital strip searches of individuals who are not suspected of any crime. For more information, see EPIC: Radiation Risks lawsuit and EPIC: ATR lawsuit, and EPIC: Suspension of Body Scanner Program. (Apr. 16, 2013)
- National Academy of Sciences to Undertake Independent Assessment of Airport Body Scanners: After years of pressure from political leaders, civil liberties and health advocates, including EPIC, there will be an independent review of the health risks posed by backscatter x-ray devices. A National Academy of Sciences committee will assess “whether exposures comply with applicable health and safety standards” for passengers and airport employees. The study is limited to radiation and safety testing, and will not examine the privacy implications or effectiveness of the x-ray machines. In 2012, both the House and the Senate introduced legislation calling for an independent assessment of the controversial devices. Europe has also effectively banned the use of backscatter X-ray devices. EPIC has a FOIA lawsuit against DHS concerning body scanner radiation risks. In response to another EPIC lawsuit, the agency will begin a public comment process on the airport screening program in March 2013. For more information see: EPIC: Whole Body Imaging Technology and Body Scanners. (Dec. 19, 2012)
- House and Senate Call for Investigation on Airport Body Scanner Radiation Risks: Both the House and the Senate introduced bills last month that would require the Department of Homeland Security "to contract with an independent laboratory to study the health effects of backscatter x-ray machines used at airline checkpoints operated by the Transportation Security Administration," and to provide improved notice of the health effects to airline passengers. The bills focus on the health effects of those screened by the backscatter x-ray machines, including frequent air travelers, flight crews, and individuals with greater sensitivity to radiation, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, and cancer patients. In 2010, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit asking a court to force the Department of Homeland Security to disclose documents about radiation testing results and agency fact sheets on radiation risks. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. DHS - Full Body Scanner Radiation Risks. (Mar. 15, 2012)
- EPIC Publishes 2012 FOIA Gallery: In celebration of Sunshine Week, EPIC published the EPIC FOIA Gallery: 2012. The gallery highlights key documents obtained by EPIC in the past year, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation's watch list guidelines, records of the Department of Homeland Security's social media monitoring program, Google's first Privacy Compliance Report, records detailing the government's FAST scanning program, records of the FBI's surveillance of Wikileaks supporters, and DHS records detailing the use of body scanners at the U.S. border. EPIC regularly files Freedom of Information Act requests and pursues lawsuits to force disclosure of critical documents that impact privacy. EPIC also publishes the authoritative FOIA litigation manual. For more, see EPIC Open Government and EPIC Bookstore: FOIA. (Mar. 12, 2012)
- PBS Special Highlights Risks of Airport Body Scanners: A PBS Newshour special highlights the radiation risks and security flaws of airport body scanners. The program follows EPIC's Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security. EPIC's suits forced disclosure of documents detailing the health risks and privacy hazards posed by the scanners as well as the proposed use of the scanners on public streets and in train stations. EPIC also sued the agency, asking the DC Circuit Court of Appeals to suspend the airport body scanner program. The court ruled that the TSA violated federal law when it installed body scanners in airports for primary screening across the country without first soliciting public comment. The European Union recently adopted strict guidelines that effectively prohibit the use of backscatter x-ray body scanners. For more, see EPIC: EPIC v. DHS and EPIC: Whole Body Imaging Technology (Dec. 1, 2011)
- EPIC Asks Court to Require DHS Disclosure of Documents Detailing Body Scanner Radiation Risks: EPIC has filed a motion for summary judgment in EPIC v. DHS, No. 1:11-cv-01991-ABJ, a pending Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security for information about the radiation risks posed by body scanners. EPIC has asked the court to force the agency to disclose documents containing radiation testing results, agency fact sheets on body scanner radiation risks, and an image produced by the machines. A new report from ProPublica states that the "U.S. Government Glossed Over Cancer Concerns As It Rolled Out Airport X-Ray." EPIC has already obtained hundreds of pages of documents detailing the radiation risks presented by the machines. For more information, see EPIC: Body Scanners and Radiation Risks (FOIA). (Nov. 1, 2011)
- EPIC v. DHS Lawsuit -- FOIA'd Documents Raise New Questions About Body Scanner Radiation Risks : In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA's airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters - safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST "affirmed the safety" of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the "General Public Dose Limit." For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security - Full Body Scanner Radiation Risks and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Jun. 24, 2011)
- EPIC Files FOIA Suit to Force Disclosure of Body Scanner Radiation Risks: EPIC has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, seeking records concerning radiation emissions and exposure associated with airport full body scanners. The Department recently implemented the scanners as a primary screening mechanism for all airline travelers. In August, many senators questioned the safety of the scanners. In September, Ralph Nader also sent a letter to the Senate expressing concern about radiation exposure. Earlier this year, EPIC requested DHS to release all information about radiation emissions. DHS failed to respond to EPIC's FOIA request and when DHS also failed to reply to EPIC's administrative appeal, EPIC filed a lawsuit in federal court. Earlier EPIC FOIA lawsuits uncovered evidence that body scanners can store and record images and that the Marshals Service had captured more than 35,000 images. For more information see, EPIC v. DHS (Body scanner images) and EPIC v. DOJ (Body scanner images). (Nov. 19, 2010)
- EPIC Presses for Release of Government Documents on Health Risks of Airport Body Scanners: EPIC has filed an appeal with the Transportation Security Administration, challenging the agency's denial of expedited processing and fee waivers for an EPIC Freedom of Information Act request. EPIC's is seeking documents from the TSA concerning full body scanner radiation risks and testing. EPIC challenged the TSA's denial of expedited processing, arguing that by delaying to release of the records, the agency was risking the health of travelers and its own employees. EPIC also argued that the record request was particularly timely, as three US Senators recently wrote to the Department of Homeland Security about the safety of the airport body scanners and the risk to air travelers. Separately, EPIC has urged a federal court to suspend the program, pending an independent review of the health risks and privacy impact. For more information, see EPIC: Body Scanners and EPIC v. DHS (suspension of program). (Aug. 30, 2010)
- EPIC's FOIA Request, filed July 13, 2010 (pdf)
- DHS's Acknowledgement of Receipt and Transfer of Request dated July 29, 2010 (pdf)
- TSA's Denial of Fee Waiver and Expedited Processing dated August 13, 2010 (pdf)
- EPIC's FOIA Appeal to TSA filed August 27, 2010 (pdf)
- Full-body Scanners Could Pose Cancer Risk at Airports, Ben Mutzabaugh, USA Today, July 1, 2010.
- “Naked” Scanners May Increase Cancer Risk, Kate Schneider, news.com.au, May 19, 2010.
EPIC relies on support from individual donors to pursue our work.
Subscribe to the EPIC Alert
The EPIC Alert is a by-monthly newsletter highlighting emerging privacy issues.