The headlines are full of warnings about the dangers of eating hot dogs and deli meats. But what about the risks posed by the New York Police Department’s use of secretive X-ray vans that make a mockery of the Constitution and jeopardize your health?
Originally used by the military in Afghanistan, Z Backscatter Vans use X-ray technology (aka radiation) to enable police officers to look through walls or into closed cars and trucks. But very little is known about how the NYPD uses these vans or the potential health risks to anyone exposed to radiation given off by this technology.
In fact, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union court filing, the public remains in the dark about the most pressing questions:
- How is the NYPD ensuring that innocent New Yorkers are not subject to harmful X-ray radiation?
- How long is the NYPD keeping the images that it takes and who can look at them?
- Is the NYPD obtaining judicial authorization prior to taking images, and if so, what type of authorization?
“I will not talk about anything at all about this,” New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton recently told a journalist for the New York Post who asked about the vans. “It falls into the range of security and counter-terrorism activity that we engage in.”
This response shouldn’t be too surprising, since it came from the same police department that spent years spying on innocent Muslim-Americans in the area that produced zero leads.
“Time and time again, we’ve seen ample evidence that various authorities in America have abused their power, lied to judges about the nature of surveillance, and fought for the right to spy on ordinary Americans in complete disregard for such minor niceties as due process of law,” Joel Hruska writes in his blog post.
But the use of this military-grade technology on civilians has an added bonus- it might make us sick. Studies have repeatedly shown that the cumulative exposure to trace amounts of radiation can create serious health problems. That’s why the U.S. Custom and Border Protection, whom used a similar device to prevent contraband from crossing the border, would make everyone exit the vehicle before using the x-rays. But we don’t know if the NYPD takes any precautionary steps because they won’t say how it’s being used.
ProPublica filed a suit against the NYPD in 2012 under the state’s Freedom of Information Law after a journalist’s request to see training materials and health tests for the X-ray machines was denied. In December 2014, a New York Supreme Court Judge ordered the NYPD to release the information, saying in her ruling:
“While this court is cognizant and sensitive to concerns about terrorism, being located less than a mile from the 9/11 site, and having seen firsthand the effects of terrorist destruction, nonetheless, the hallmark of our great nation is that it is a democracy, with a transparent government.”
The NYPD appealed that ruling and the information remains unavailable to the public.