Still not known whether sweaty armpits are setting off false alarms

Steve Watson
October 26, 2011


Trials of invasive full body scanning machines in Australia have revealed that the technology has a huge error rate of up to 40%, yet government officials want to roll out the technology in airports anyway.

The Australian Office of Transport Security announced this week that of 23,500 scans carried out at Sydney and Melbourne airports during August and September, between 20 and 40% of alarms raised were done so in error.

Worse still, it is not even clear what caused the machines to set off false alarms.

As we reported in August, it is suspected that perspiration on passengers is a leading cause of the errors, though this still remains unconfirmed.

Despite the results, Office of Transport Security executive director Paul Retter told a recent Senate estimates committee hearing that the technology was improving “on a weekly and monthly basis”.

Despite repeated warnings from security experts that the machines cannot even detect explosives effectively, Retter maintained that the technology provides “the best chance in the world today to detect explosives, including home-made explosives”.

Retter also stated that though the government has not yet made a decision on whether to fully adopt the technology, he will recommend “a progressive rollout at eight international airports”.

“We would envisage that the rollout will start to occur from the early part of 2012,” he said.

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Prior to the Australian trials, the German government decided to completely scrap plans to use the scanners after police described radiation-firing full body scanners as “useless”, following a 10-month trial.

According to a German federal police report, 35 percent of the 730,000 passengers checked by the scanners set off the alarm more than once despite having nothing prohibited about their person whatsoever.

The report noted that an alarm was set off without reason in roughly seven out of every ten cases, adding that the scanners struggled to cope with layers of clothing, boots and zip fasteners, and even the posture of passengers passing through.

The report concluded that the machines are too sensitive to movement and operate too slowly to be of any practical use.

Despite all these findings, the Department of Homeland Security in the US continues to roll out hundreds more of the scanning machines into airports across the country, claiming that the machine have passed rigorous safety and efficiency tests, in statements we have repeatedly highlighted as highly questionable at best.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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