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Brazilian Highway Police X-ray Moving Vehicles

April 30, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Musculoskeletal Radiology
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That van parked by the side of a Brazilian highway may be X-raying the contents of every car and truck that passes and alerting the Federal Highway Police to stop vehicles carrying anything that looks suspicious.

InfoSur Hoy, a news site covering Latin America and the Caribbean, reported Monday on the vans, which Brazil has deployed along its 11 border states since November. InfoSur Hoy is sponsored by the U.S. Southern Command, the Defense Department branch that deals with Central and South America and the Caribbean.

Juliano Piacentini, a 42-year-old sales representative whose car was stopped because something caught the X-ray officer’s eye, told InfoSur Hoy:

The police didn’t say what they were looking for, but they didn’t find anything out of the ordinary. I live in Argentina, where scanners also have been used at checkpoints.

Five vans cover what the article calls “the most at-risk areas.” “We’ll never have enough manpower to inspect 100 percent of the vehicles,” said officer Luciano Fernandes, “but the search for illegal goods has become a lot more efficient with these scanners.”

Fernandes is secretary of the Executive Committee for Major Events at the Federal Highway Police. He said the police plan to add 12 more mobile scanners and one fixed scanner for use at major events. “The vans will be stationed near the stadiums or at highway access points to search for weapons, drugs, and explosives,” he said. “Each of the 12 host cities for the 2014 World Cup will have at least one scanner.”

The equipment came from the United States, where use of the vans by the Homeland Security Department has triggered alarm about privacy and safety. The InfoSur Hoy article doesn’t identify the manufacturer, but American Science and Engineering, Inc., of Billerica, Massachusetts, said in 2010 that it had sold more than 500 of its Z Backscatter Vans to U.S. and foreign government agencies.

Privacy advocates say use of the technology amounts to unreasonable, warrantless searches. Others worry about exposing drivers and passengers to radiation. (The InfoSur Hoy article raises neither concern.)

AS&E says on its Web site that the dosage from its backscatter X-ray system “is equivalent to flying two minutes at altitude.” Yeah, says at least one expert, unless a mechanical failure leads to a much higher dose. Let’s also hope that the operators of the equipment are properly trained to minimize their own exposure.

As security concerns continue to bedevil the world, such intrusive but noninvasive technologies are sure to proliferate. Will safety concerns keep pace?

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