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X-RAY VANS: Security Measure, or Invasion of Privacy?

By Diane Macedo

Privacy advocates worried about x-ray scanners making their way around U.S. airports may be surprised to know the technology is also making its way onto America’s streets.

The Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military and even local law enforcement agencies are buying and deploying mobile X-ray vans that can see into the interior of vehicles around them.

The Z Backscatter Van (ZBV), manufactured by American Science and Engineering (AS&E), can be used to detect contraband such as car bombs, drugs and people in hiding.

But the vans, which can also see through clothing and into some buildings, are raising privacy concerns as well as questions about health risks — and what might happen if the technology gets into the wrong hands….

Once equipped, the van — which looks like a standard delivery van — takes less than 15 seconds to scan a vehicle; it can be operated remotely from more than 1,500 feet and can be equipped with optional technology to identify radioactivity as well.

The Z Backscatter vans range in cost from $729,000 to $825,000. The DHS says they have been a huge asset at the nation’s ports and borders, and at major crowd events like the Super bowl.

“Using the ZBV vans over the past couple of years, we’ve gotten over a thousand seizures and 89,000 pounds worth of narcotics, approximately $4 million worth of currency, and we’ve also uncovered 10 or 11 undeclared aliens within vehicles,” said Patrick Simmons, Director of Non-Intrusive Inspection at Customs and Border Protection. “Again, we don’t purposely scan for people, but if they’re in there hiding, the ZBV will be able to spot them.”

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