Home airport security Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and child passengers

Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) and child passengers

by Shelly Rivoli
There’s been much discussion and debate at my house about the new AIT at airport security vs. the alternative TSA pat-down. While it’s one thing to decide for yourself which is the preferred method of compromising your personal privacy, it’s the matter of the child passengers we’ll be deciding for that troubles me more.
I’m not a fan of subjecting small people—babies and toddlers especially—to unnecessary radiation. Yet I can only imagine the profound psychological damage that might come from subjecting my young daughters to physical groping by a complete stranger that is required as the alternative.
After thinking it over and reviewing the facts, it boils down to two significant points  for me that I think are worth all of us noting. Those are:
  1. The millimeter wave technology used in some AIT booths emits thousands of times less energy than a regular cell phone transmission.
  2. The backscatter scan technology used in other AIT booths produces the equivalent exposure any person receives during 2 minutes of flying in an airplane at altitude.
In other words, if you let your child talk to friends and relatives on your cell phone, you’re exposing him or her to greater radiation risk than an airport scan. And if you allow your child to spend more than 2 minutes flying in an airplane… well, you get the picture.
Still, whether or not having security officers stationed in backrooms watching passing images of naked bodies pass by—including those of children—is really the best way to improve our security is a topic I think we should continue to consider and discuss.
For my part, I think beefing up the number of crotch-sniffing dogs at airport security might achieve many of the same results (physical invasion of privacy, element of potential surprise, sensitivity to non-metallic threats, a certain percentage of false-positives to help keep things interesting) and for far less money.
In the mean time, since we do occasionally let our children talk on our cell phones, and occasionally subject them to flights lasting more than 2 minutes, we will comply with the new AIT scanning procedures on our upcoming flights—and hopefully no further screening will be necessary.
What about you?
Have you and your family passed through the new AIT scanners yet? Did you opt for the pat-down instead? How did it go for you? Are you still undecided? Share your thoughts and experiences below or on the Facebook page.
More information about AIT here:

And don’t forget you can always share your feedback concerning U.S. airport experiences with the TSA here

FOLLOW UP : Read about Advanced Imaging Technology at San Fancisco International – with children in this post.

Safe journey,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning guide Travels with Baby
https://travelswithbaby.com/   facebook

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Limo Hire Melbourne December 8, 2010 - 10:39 am

Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) is also known as Whole Body Imaging (WBI). This technology uses radiation to penetrate a person's clothes and create a stripped image of the person. This technology is used to determine whether or not a person has hidden items under clothing. The TSA considers the images produced by AIT to be "family friendly".

deepa gupta December 4, 2010 - 8:46 am

good to know about this technology and a facility for parents travelling with kids.nice piece of information

bantierooster November 19, 2010 - 9:30 pm

I am definitely against the AIT scanners because of the radiation factor. For the last four years I have been going through pat downs because of having knee replacements. I am also a cancer survivor so I have had my share of radiation and I don't want more radiation if there is a choice.
I realize it is a difficult decision about young passengers. I have two grandbabies and my daughter is having to make the choice before our trip to D.C. next week. I agree that taking their shoes and coat off should be enough unless something is suspicious.
I hope for all parents that there will be an easier way for TSA to address children.

Rachel November 19, 2010 - 12:34 am

Thanks for posting on this… I had been wondering what the protocol was for kids with this new TSA regulation. I am concerned about the radiation but also don't want to get my kids patted down. For myself, I would definitely opt for the 'enhanced pat down' though. Hopefully all the uproar over this will have an effect and they will change the way they are doing things!!

Sarah V. November 18, 2010 - 9:17 pm

I'm very concerned about these new procedures. I'm not worried about radiation…it's the idea of a stranger (or strangers, plural?) seeing what is basically a nude image of my child.

And the pat-downs, whether they are "enhanced" or not, also worry me. I wrote a blog post about my feelings on this, including an example of the kind of full-body images TSA agents will be seeing. Thank you for your post, which is a little calmer than mine. (I had to tag mine under "rants.")

I hope the discussion continues…

Shelly Rivoli November 18, 2010 - 8:56 pm

Excellent points! I know I would be more comfortable with the explosive trace detection (ETD) – and how about using more undercover air marshalls onboard?

susieandrew November 18, 2010 - 8:44 pm

Good topic. I have a lot of thoughts on it, too, so forgive my long-windedness. For the time being, I will do everything in my power to make sure my daughters go through metal detectors. They will NOT go through a backscatter x-ray. Undecided on millimeter wave. =)

Re: Backscatter – as anon implied, the scientists from UCSF released a letter basically stating that there has been no independent safety testing of the backscatter x-ray equipment and no peer-reviewed testing. So it has been tested, but those results are basically deemed sensitive information and not released for review. Given the gov't track record, it's difficult to know how safe these things really are. How close to spec do they operate in terms of radiation emissions? What is the failure rate? We simply do not know, beyond vague assurances from the FDA that they meet established standards.

Re: "enhanced" patdowns – John Pistole and Janet Napolitano both stated publicly that children 12 and under will NOT receive "that type of patdown" (per Pistole on Today show, Monday 11/15) if opting out. But, they would still get the "old" patdown, so you'd still have some TSA employee putting their hands on your kid. Also, this does nothing for kids 13+, who would still be subjected to the "enhanced" patdown.

Re: privacy – it is a concern of mine. No amount of assurances from the organization's leadership make me feel very comfortable about it, particularly when you hear things like how someone went through an AIT and the TSA employee directing him chuckled, winked and told him, "Yeah, you're definitely good." This was what a co-worker of mine told me last week, before all the hullabaloo. So, we know that front-line people are in oral communication with back-room people and can hear sometimes inappropriate comments made by said back-room employees. Not very reassuring when you have a kid going through. Rather, they should institute a code system with only emergency oral communication to avoid inappropriate conduct.

Re: efficacy of these scanners – I just heard an interview with a supposed security expert named Charles Slepian the other day. He stated that the whole purpose of these scanners is flawed. It's impossible to tell what is and is not an explosive based on visual scans alone. Rather, they should have invested these billions of dollars in explosive trace detection (ETD) – along the lines of bomb-sniffing dogs. These scanners and the new patdowns would likely NOT have caught the underwear bomber, but an ETD likely WOULD have. This is also FAR FAR FAR less invasive than the current procedures. Who cares if someone has a pen knife or a dreaded box cutter? Nobody is going to bring down a plane with one of those. It can cut you, but it won't crash a plane. It's explosives we need to worry about since we closed the 9/11 gap.

Shelly Rivoli November 18, 2010 - 8:08 pm

Thanks for the link, Wendy! I think this "enhanced pat down" definition is frighteningly vague in the first place, and whatever will now be the "non-enhanced" variety performed on children. Is there clear training given as to the difference? And is this just opening a can of worms?

Ian and Wendy Sewell November 18, 2010 - 7:51 pm

This has been the topic of discussion at our house, too! We both feel very frustrated that we should be faced with these kinds of choices given that other countries where security must be an even greater problem don't seem to feel the need for these kinds of machines! The TSA is now saying they won't subject children to "enhanced" pat downs, but they still will be patted down… (USA Today: http://travel.usatoday.com/flights/post/2010/11/no-enhanced-pat-downs-for-kids-tsa-says/131686/1)

We would much rather have dogs at the airport. It would seem like they'd be much more useful, too!

Shelly Rivoli November 18, 2010 - 7:29 pm

The letter from UCSF faculty can be read here for those interested: http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf
It sounds like the millimeter wave version may be less risky / controversial – too bad they seem to be less common as well.

THE Disneyland Mom November 18, 2010 - 7:22 pm

Interesting piece. Thanks for posting. My husband and I were just discussing this very issue this morning!

Anonymous November 18, 2010 - 7:13 pm

i've decided to avoid it on an upcoming trip. i'll be going with my 12 month old and given that UCSF just released a statement asking TSA to remove them given the cancer risks, it's not worth it for me to expose him. I'll be present when they do the manual search so hopefully won't be that big of a deal.

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