Body scanners used at Australian airports for passenger screening are safe and do not pose a health risk.
Security screening at airports has been common practice for many years but has recently undergone significant changes. This includes the introduction of enhanced X-ray technology for the screening of baggage and body scanners for domestic travel.
Body scanners have been used for screening at Australian international airports since 2012 and are now being rolled out in domestic airports. Body scanners are designed to detect all items worn or carried on a person, not just metallic items.
Body scanners are designed to detect weapons, explosives and other prohibited items concealed under clothing. Some of these technologies can also detect explosives that can be carried by passengers onto civil aircraft in a powder, liquid, aerosol or gel form. These technologies are already in use in Australia, the United States, Canada and Europe.
Body scanners do not collect or store any personal information.
Body scanners do not pose any known health risks to passengers or operators and there are no known safety concerns to people with active implantable medical devices, such as pacemakers. The amount of energy released during the scanning process for body scanners are much lower than that emitted from mobile phones.
It is a government requirement that body scanners used for security screening in Australia use non-ionising technology. This means they do not emit ionising radiation such as X-rays.
The latest technologies for airport security screening are whole-body imaging machines that use millimetre-wave technology to scan an individual’s form.
Millimetre wave technologies
Millimetre wave body scanners use non-ionising radiation. Millimetre waves are radiofrequency radiation in the gigahertz bands, similar to that emitted by mobile phones. Clothing and other organic materials appear translucent to radiation of this type. These machines collect radio waves emitted by or reflected from the body to create a three-dimensional image in a generic format that does not compromise passengers’ privacy and shows no human anatomy.
X-ray backscatter technology
Outside Australia, some overseas airports may use body scanners that use backscatter X-ray technology – these apply very low amounts of ionising radiation and measures X-rays reflected off the person being screened, typically many times less than a medical X-ray.
In Australia, body scanners only use non-ionising millimetre wave technology to screen passengers for aviation security screening. X-ray backscatter technology has never been used for passenger security screening in Australia.