Backscatter X-ray is a form of X-ray imaging system which detects radiation which is bounced off an object or person under surveillance.
The technology makes use of backscatter X-ray scanners that can penetrate several inches into solid steel. It has made searching massive containers and trucks far easier than performing an extensive, time-consuming physical search. Smuggled items and dangerous weapons can be searched safely and quickly. The horizontal range of many scanners can reach up to several dozen meters.
The backscatter X-ray technology is considered to be far safer than transmission X-rays because of the lower levels of radiation that are involved. However, some manufacturers claim to have come up with transmission X-ray systems that pose reduced risks of radiation. This technique has not been adopted as an alternative to backscatter X-rays, considering the breach of privacy that the latter involves.
Risks of the technology
There have been a number of risks pointed out that accompany the use of backscatter X-ray technology for the purpose of carrying out security measures in places like airports and prisons. Primarily, it is the risk from radiation that has caused widespread worry. However, the benefits of using the technology far outweigh the risk of absorbing minute amounts of radiation. It is unlikely for such low radiation to increase the risk of cancer by a considerably great level.
The second problem that has been pointed out is the breach of a person's privacy that is caused by the use of backscatter X-rays. The images obtained from a search conducted by backscatter technology can reveal a person's vital body parts. Such searches are conducted on people chosen at random at places like airports in the United States; this means that the public has to accept such intrusive detection measures in order to help their government uphold national security and prevent crime.