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Lookout! Government peering at you with X-rays on highway
You won't believe what's inside that plain white van
Posted: September 13, 2010
7:54 pm Eastern
By Michael Carl
© 2010 WorldNetDaily
X-ray machines now are mounted inside vans
A plain white van moving through traffic on a busy thoroughfare looks like a delivery
vehicle, making a run to a local business.
It could be any plain white van in any American city.
But there are two men sitting in the back of the van operating X-ray machines. As their
panel van moves in and out of traffic, the men use the X-ray machines to scan passing
vehicles, peering behind the walls of the adjoining trucks to discover if the targets are
carrying weapons, drugs or illegal immigrants.
This scenario isn't from a spy movie, it's happening every day in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service and
even local law enforcement agencies are buying and deploying mobile X-ray vans.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told Congress
<http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/testimony/test ... 36754.shtm> in an April 2010
hearing that 30 of the vans were being deployed to the Mexican border.
Napolitano said the machines would be, "used in a mobile inspection capacity to identify
anomalies in passenger vehicles ? on the Southwest border ... These machines greatly
assist CBP officers in inspections."
The military uses the machines in anti-terrorist operations in the Middle East and for
base security in the United States. For the past three years, the Air Force has used
<http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/testimony/test ... 4.shtm>the devices to scan
vehicles that come to the gate of a stateside base.
A contract from the Department of Defense website
<http://www.defense.gov/contracts/contra ... actid=3072> shows that the United
States Marine Corps had an $86 million contractin 2005 to purchase 52 of the vans.
Delivery of the first part of the order was scheduled for 2006.
The new Z Backscatter X-ray vans can be used to detect car bombs, guns and other weapons
and reports say that American Science and Engineering <http://www.as-e.com/> of
Billerica, Mass., has sold about 500 of the vans.
The company website says that X-rays "interact with matter, they generally do one of
three things: 1. They pass through the object. 2. They are absorbed by the object. 3.
They are scattered from the object."
X-ray technology works by having objects with a greater density block or absorb the rays.
Objects with a lesser density don't block or absorb the stronger x-rays.
The company website further reports
<http://www.as-e.com/products_solutions/ ... r.asp>that the Z Backscatter systems
use electronically generated X-rays to look inside a target object.
This particular technology allows a portable X-ray machine to drive around in what some
critics say is "a seemingly normal delivery van," but be able to conduct X-ray imaging
tests, as reported by the company website, on "suspect vehicles and objects while the ZBV
van drives past."
Although literature about the machines says they aren't invasive, privacy advocates
aren't buying that explanation. One reason is that the machines can also X-ray through
Electronic Privacy Information Center spokesman Marc Rotenberg says that no matter what
claims are made about the vans, the machines in the vans are going to be used outside of
their normal settings.
"Those questions are always there with mobile scanners. The key distinction is that were
backscatter X-rays would most likely be in places like airports, and people would
recognize their use," Rotenberg stated.
"But in mobile units, it's actually a concealed type of surveillance because the mobile
backscatter device is used from inside a van and that's a very different type of
implementation," Rotenberg explained.
Rotenberg says the machines could be effective weapons against potential adversaries if
there are legal safeguards.
"The key point is not so much about regulating technology, but about regulating police
practices in the use of the new technology," Rotenberg observed.
"Based on what the Supreme Court has said in other similar cases, I think there has to be
some probable cause or warrant before people are scanned without suspicion and when
images are provided of what people look like without their clothes," Rotenberg said.
Rotenberg also believes there should be limits on where the machines are deployed.
"They've been used in airports; they've been used in prisons. I think that's worth
keeping in mind. They're also used in federal court houses. This is a new, and in
military zones at security checkpoints, but the use of mobile scanners, this is new,"
Rotenberg claims that there should be a question of the machine's accuracy if the
machines are mobile.
Rotenberg says the public is largely unaware that this technology exists.
"I don't think the public is aware that this technology exists. And I think it's
something that requires some debate as this technology is considered for broader
deployment," Rotenberg stated.
He also believes the lack of coverage is due to the technology's rapid developmental
pace. However, he says his group EPIC is actively trying to make sure the technology is
"We have a series of open government requests. We are trying to make known to the public
how the devices operate and what the privacy and health risks are. We've also formally
petitioned to have the program suspended pending a formal review," Rotenberg explained.
Rotenberg adds that his organization believes the federal government should wait until
there are sufficient legal safeguards in place before the vans and other machines are
American Science and Engineering Vice President of Marketing Joe Reiss didn't return any
calls asking for comment.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is
distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and
educational purposes only. GRG [Ref.
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