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Getting Some Rays: Forget Radar, Now the Government is X-Raying You as You Drive

If you have been feeling uneasy about having to be X-rayed by a Transportation Security Administration goon who can look under your clothes every time you fly, consider this: at least you can say no, and agree to be subjected to an old-fashioned full-body search.

No opt-out for the latest in anti-terror technology though, with reports just out in Forbes Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor that the Homeland Security Department has purchased 500 mobil X-ray vans called ZBVs that can scan cars, trucks and homes without the drivers or residents in a building even knowing that they’re being zapped.

These vans, made by a Massachusetts company called American Science & Engineering, are fitted out with what are called Z Backscatter X-ray devices, which aim a powrful X-ray beam that reportedly has the capability of penetrating 14 inches of steel.

A driver can be X-rayed with no protection and never know what hit himA driver can be X-rayed with no protection and never know what hit him

In theory, the device is supposed to be safe for human targets, because it is operated at a distance, and because the beam is weakened by penetrating the metal of a vehicle before it reaches a person. But the flaws in this kind of reassuring safety calculus are readily apparent in a photo of a small truck carrying contraband that accompanies the Christian Science Monitor story. The X-ray image, after penetrating the truck cab’s metal body, clearly shows the contraband behind the driver’s seat, but it also just as clearly shows the shadowy outline of the driver of the pickup. Worse yet, even his window is half-way down, so there is no shielding at all of the X-rays hitting his head. Houses meanwhile, are most often built of wood, which offers little or no shielding protection.

We can expect these mobil X-ray vans to be proliferating around the country soon, if they’re not out there already, but they may be hard to spot. As American Science & Engineering says in a note to investors on the company website:

A breakthrough in X-ray detection technology, AS&E's Z Backscatter Van is the number one selling non-intrusive mobile inspection system on the market. The ZBV system is a low-cost, highly mobile screening system built into a commercially available delivery van.

One of the 500 X-ray vans Homeland Security has bought to cruise the US zapping unsuspecting driversOne of the 500 X-ray vans Homeland Security has bought to cruise the US zapping unsuspecting drivers

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