Look, I’m willing to at least consider the possibility that airport scanners will increase safety and security in airline flight, but it’s still a radiographic system from which one should avoid unnecessary exposures. CNN’s cheery report on the commercial uses of such systems entirely avoids that question, as well as several others about its use and utility:
This reminds me a little of the fluoroscopes that were in use in the early 20th century, handled by those well-reknowned scientists who, er, sold shoes. For two decades, the children of America got exposed to significant doses of X-rays simply as a marketing gimmick for giving them the “right fit,” a process so otherwise difficult that it would require trying on the shoes … which customers had to do anyway.
Similarly, despite getting a magic printout, customers will still have to try on their clothes. Why? Because manufacturers hide behind symbolic sizing to adjust to any particular market, especially in women’s clothes, but also in men’s shoes and sportswear. The issue isn’t the stores, it’s the producers. A backscatter device might give a customer accurate measurements, but since clothing is rarely sold by measurement but by categories, it’s not going to have much impact. Even a serious attempt to connect measurements to sizing for all major clothing manufacturers today may be obsolete by the very next season. And anyone who worries this much about fit will still need to pass through a fitting room before buying anyway.
Why is this use for the backscatter devices being promoted now? Could it be that the manufacturers (or the government) want to make them seem more cute and cuddly for reasons having nothing to do with retail sales? It would be interesting to see whether the sale of such devices to retailers is in any way subsidized through Homeland Security programs.