May 23, 2013
Drive-By Scanning: Officials Expand Use and Dose of Radiation for Security Screening
Posted on Jan 28, 2012
by Michael Grabell, ProPublica
“Treating People Like Luggage”
Such machines, however, were introduced in prisons in 2011.
A transmission X-ray body scanner, the RadPRO SecurPASS, is sold by Virtual Imaging, a Florida subsidiary of Canon USA. In the last year, it has been installed at the Cook County Jail in Chicago; several jails in Florida and Alabama; and the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City, a temporary detention center for inmates being transported across the country.
The dose has two settings. The standard setting delivers a radiation dose about 10 times higher than that of an airport body scanner. But to produce a better image, the operator has the ability to switch to a higher exposure, said Kris Kessler, creative marketing manager for Virtual Imaging.
Even with the standard setting, the quality of the image produced by the SecurPASS is so good that people don’t have to take off their jackets or shoes, as they do before going through the airport scanners, Kessler said.
“It’s almost like we’re treating people like luggage,” he said.
The device has already made some interesting finds. One inmate was found to have swallowed 10 pouches of heroin, Steve Patterson, then the Cook County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, told ProPublica last year. Another inmate, he said, was found to have kidney stones.
Jails use the SecurPASS mostly on prisoners as they leave and come back from work detail, Kessler said. But some facilities are considering using it on employees as well, he added, to prevent them from bringing in contraband.
Dennis Wolfe, Virtual Imaging’s national sales manager for security products, said he has had conversations with the TSA and that a test lasting several months was overseen by Homeland Security science and technology staff in 2010 and 2011. The department denied that.
The device, which was initially used to prevent theft in diamond mines, has already been used at London’s Heathrow Airport to scan suspected drug mules. (Customs officials in the United States and other countries can, with a traveler’s consent, order a medical X-ray, which would deliver a higher radiation dose.)
For now, however, Virtual Imaging is focusing on corrections facilities.
Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, said the system is running a pilot test of various scanners but has not made a decision.
Still, Wolfe said he expects many federal prisons and larger jail systems to be using the SecurPASS in the next few years. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” he said. “If somebody’s hiding something up their butt, which technology are you going to use?”
The rapid growth of X-ray scanning for security and the limited authority granted to regulators make it difficult to keep track of the equipment.
Two airport body scanners, for example, were recently auctioned off by the General Services Administration. A new scanner typically sells for $170,000. But these scanners, which had been in storage, were sold for a total of $600.
Under FDA regulations, sellers would normally be required to keep records of who purchases their X-ray products. But because the FDA never adopted a mandatory safety standard for the airport body scanners, this rule does not apply.
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