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Sydney, Melbourne Airports now using full body scanners

By John Walton     Filed under: Security, airport security, full body scanners, security checks

Sydney and Melbourne Airport are now using controversial full-body scanners, with international travellers being randomly selected for screening -- and unable to opt out unless they have a solid medical reason.

Passengers who are selected for a body scan  but "refuse to undergo the body scan, and do not have a valid medical or physical condition, will be not permitted to board their flight" Melbourne Airport warns.

The scanners are being rolled out at all of Australia's major international airports this month and are also operational at Brisbane and Perth. Adelaide, Darwin, Cairns and the Gold Coast will come in the next three weeks.

Yet despite recommendations for "a comprehensive communications strategy" in the official report (download this as a PDF) from 2011 trials of the machines in Sydney and Melbourne, there seems to have been little if any public information campaign from the Government or the respective airports.

So here's what you need to know.

Fewer worries about safety and privacy than in the US

These 'active millimetre-wave' scanners rely on different technology than the backscatter X-ray variety which have raised as-yet-unproven health concerns in the States. Nor are they the same ones which privacy advocates have tagged as "nude-o-scopes".

Instead of your naked form, the machines show only a generic outline of the human body with a yellow box over any suspicious items on your person.

Security staff can then target only that part of your body to check for contraband.

No opt-out of random selection

But unlike the screening system at US airports, once selected for a random screening at Australian airports you won't be able to opt out of the process in favour of a physical pat-down unless you fall into a few medical categories.

From the Government's Travel Secure advisory page:

If a person refuses to undergo a body scan, and they have no medical or physical condition which prevents them for undertaking a body scan, they will be refused clearance and not allowed to pass through the screening point. They therefore will not be allowed to board their aircraft.

Simply put: no scan, no fly.

Adjust your frequent flyer wardrobe

Frequent flyers might need to adjust their inflight clothing choices, especially as Australian tests proved you're six times more likely to set off the alarm going through a body scanner than a metal detector.

It's no longer enough for you to be metal-free, since the scanners set off alarms for non-metallic items too.

Pockets, jeans studs, zips and buttons, folds in your clothing, baggy outfits and sequins were the five most common clothing-related items to set off the alarms in the 2011 tests.

Don't forget to take everything out of your pockets

Part of the reason for people setting off the alarms more frequently is that you now need to get rid of non-metallic items in your pockets, on your person or even in your hair.

Security people call these "divestible items": the things you should put in an X-ray machine tray with your laptop and coat.

The Australian trials found 230 divestible items on passengers per 1000 body scans, compared with 49 items per 1000 metal detector scans.

Hair clips made up 21 percent of the alarms, jewellery 20 percent and currency 17 percent. So those are definitely things to skip or put in the tray to go through the X-ray scanner.

Better screening personnel will be needed, too

The results from the 2011 trials in Sydney and Melbourne recommended: "In particular, it was noted that training for screening officers will require a much greater focus on customer service."

"Effective and clear communications to inform passengers about the process will also be essential," the report said.

"Tolerance" and "good manners" were included on the screening training suggestions list.

For more on the new body scanners, visit the Australian Government Department of Infrastructure and Transport.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter for everything you need to know about business travel: we're @AusBT.


About John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


Have something to say? Post a comment now!

1 on 6/12/12 by edy4eva

These are ridiculous machines, pointless in every way. 

1 on 6/12/12 by KG

edy4eva can you elaborate as to why you find these scanners pointless and useless in every way?


1 on 6/12/12 by edy4eva

From a security point of view, unless everyone gets scanned, they are just pointless devices.

Now, even if everyone gets scanned that won't deter a person or a group of persons from doing whatever goes in their brains.

On a more positive note, having gone through these machines before they seem to like thick pockets (or merely a tissue crumbled in a pocket).

1 on 6/12/12 by KG

Thank for elaborating, I would argue you find the way the machines are utilised pointless rather than the machines itself ;) I tend to agree, it seems random to , uhh, randomly select passengers to take the scan. Then again, you can fly across Australia for 5 hours in a 747 with bottles of wine in your handluggage, however, on a three hour flight to New Zealand on a 737 you have to comply to liquid restrictions. I have been puzzled many times by the rules which seem to differe from country to country and just stopped trying to discover the reasoning of certain policies and procedures (in CDG I almost got rejected at security because I held my passport in my hand whengoing through the scanner and I argued I wanted to keep it with me!!!)

1 on 7/12/12 by John

Allow me to share my own views on why this is a spectacularly useless blunder.

These machines cost around $200,000. I have grave doubts about the tendering process making good use of public funds, and would be very interested to see the required cost-benefit analysis and precisely how it values the increase in screener cost/skills and wasted passenger time.

They have flaws that are equally (if not more) problematic than metal detectors. They won't alarm for anything like a pacemaker, for example. How is that different from somebody concealing something inside their body? And there are six times more alarms than a metal detector. I'm so glad we're fighting the important war on hair clips.

They also go off when they detect anything out of their programming's parameters. Like pockets. Loose clothing. Buttons. Fat people. Bangles. Sweat. (Yes, perspiration.) Good job that Australia's international airports are all located in year-round cool climates.

The "random" part is also a colossal farce. Been through Sydney international recently? The ridiculous "random" swab-down station sits right by the exit of the Express Path business class/frequent flyer fast track lane. Ever seen anyone pulled over who isn't coming out of Express Path? Frequent flyers are a lower security risk than the general population. Why would they be pulled out at the same rate as everyone else, let alone more? 

Look, there's a reason that the liquid-bomber, shoe-bomber and pants-bomber failed: building a bomb to get past existing airport security is pretty difficult.

If authorities want to crack down, they need to start looking at the gaps in existing security and standards. I boarded an Air New Zealand flight to Wellington this week at Sydney, and the Qantas staffer didn't even glance at my passport on boarding. (I thought I saw him not looking at the passengers in front of me and so had my passport open to a non-picture page to see whether I was right. I was.) I could have been absolutely anyone getting on that plane.

At the end of the day, I firmly agree with Bruce Schneier. Security post-9/11 has been improved by two things: stronger cockpit doors and passengers who know to take action in a hijacking. The rest is useless security theatre.

1 on 8/12/12 by here2go

LOL! Sweat triggers an alarm!  OMG!  "Hey Darwin, you must take a quiet 10 minute break in the foyer before entering security."

With Darwin being both International and Domestic, I wonder how it is managed - will find out next week.

2 on 6/12/12 by KG

Personally I do not agree with edy4eva that these are "ridiculous machines, pointless in every way". Unfortunately security and scanning is part of travelling life (at least when travelling by planes). Personally, I find these machines pretty good, my experience in other countruies where they are already in use is that they make for swift security checks. As long as you take of your shoes, belt and take everything out of your pockets (something you need to do when going thorugh "conventional security" anyway) I never found going through them a hassle. I'd rather be safe and feel safe when flying and hapilly take the scan. One thing I do find odd is that there is no opt out (personally I do not know why ppl rather be patted down instead of having a quick 10 second scan, in my opinion a pat down is much more intrusive than the scan). One can argue that if you are opting out you have something to hide so.... Wonder if there are no laws preventing from forcing ppl to take the scan (I guess this has been checked and there are none > in the US pat down is available obviously). On a whole, the scanners are only used for random checks so there is veryy little chance you have to go through them.

1 on 6/12/12 by Agfox

KG My wife & I (in our 60's) have never been required to remove our shoes or belts during screening at any Australian or overseas airport. For some reason, however, we're regularly selected to undergo the residue test at Melbourne Airport. Mind you, we prefer this to removing articles of our clothing

3 on 6/12/12 by nix584

It was going to happen eventually that these screeners became the norm in Australia. They're really not that intrusive, and they do a better job (in some cases) than the traditional metal detector/pat down method.

I went through these twice in the US without even realising it. You just walk in, turn sideways, wait about 3 seconds and walk through. It wasn't until someone mentioned the security measures to me after I returned home that I realised I had actually been body screened.

4 on 7/12/12 by Vince

Unfortunately a pointless waste of time and money. This level of technology is only as effective as the quality of the staff and maintenance allows. Given the state of play at our airports and the increasing level of cost take out, the machines will have little value after a week or two. I guess they can always relocate them to arrivals and move the sniffer dogs to departures. The dogs always seem to have a good attitude.

5 on 7/12/12 by Ridi

These things don't give you cancer, they make it harder for your body to fight cancer.  Stare into the beam.  Don't close your eyes.  Your vitreous and aqueous humors are particularly unprotected sensitive body parts.

Don't worry. Cataracts and damaged retinas won't show up for years after the current authorities are retired on pensions.

BTW, if  you refuse, and they deny you boarding, does that mean forever? If you walk to another terminal and book another flight, are you automatically banned from doing so?  Or will you be automatically blocked from every security station until you agree to let these machines tear apart your DNA for their profit, even though a pat-down is much more secure?

The airports and the authorities are doing the killing for the terrorists.

And.You.Will.Comply. or be denied medical care at the other end of your flight. You will be denied the ability to make a living if your work calls for you to fly (as does mine).  You will be denied attending your mother's funeral.  Or your child's.  Unless you submit to a DNA ripping body scan, and shut up about it. 

6 on 7/12/12 by Ridi

You fly, you die. But first you'll go blind.

From the source:


DNA Breathing Dynamics in the Presence of a Terahertz Field B. S. Alexandrov, V. Gelev, A. R. Bishop, A. Usheva, K. O. Rasmussen (Submitted on 28 Oct 2009) We consider the influence of a terahertz field on the breathing dynamics of double-stranded DNA. We model the spontaneous formation of spatially localized openings of a damped and driven DNA chain, and find that linear instabilities lead to dynamic dimerization, while true local strand separations require a threshold amplitude mechanism. Based on our results we argue that a specific terahertz radiation exposure may significantly affect the natural dynamics of DNA, and thereby influence intricate molecular processes involved in gene expression and DNA replication. Subjects: Biological Physics (; Computational Physics (physics.comp-ph) Journal reference: Physics Letters A, Volume 374, Issue 10, 2010 DOI: 10.1016/j.physleta.2009.12.077 Report number: LA-UR 09-03248 Cite as: arXiv:0910.5294 []   (or arXiv:0910.5294v1 [] for this version) Submission history From: Boian Alexandrov S [v1] Wed, 28 Oct 2009 05:20:33 GMT (183kb,D)

7 on 9/12/12 by Andie

Whether you are scanned by these new scanners or the old scanners - you are scanned before getting through. And that's the key to this issue.

The alternative is no scanning.

Would anyone get on a plane if they knew the other passengers were not scanned?

1 on 11/12/12 by Ridi

No. no.  That's not "the alternative." There's also that Flintstone-era scanning method called a full body pat down, which WOULD have caught the underwear bomber while these for-profit death ray robots would have seen nothing.

Get scanned if you want.  And be sure to keep your eyes open like everyone else so your corneas, aqueous humors and lenses get baked real good.  You can joke with your doctor later about driving a Toyota, not a cataract.

But forced exposure to DNA-unzipping high energy radiation as a condition to flying, "Fly Now, Die Sooner", is a punch in the face to human rights in the bogus name of security.

Pat me down, grab my crotch, I don't care.  Don't kill me because I have to go to work.

2 on 12/12/12 by Himeno

The alternative is not giving in to this paranoia and unjustified and unnecessary trash and bring back sensible, sane screening. Walk Through Metal Detector, hand baggage x-ray, pat downs as needed, and Explosive Trace Detection swabbing.

3 on 17/12/12 by Lawrie

No scanning, yes please good idea provided they train security people in plain clothes with a smile and badge to engage people in conversation and look them in the eye and say "Where you off to Sir/Madam'  People trained to look for suspicous behaviour.  People with skills like 'The Mentalist' they do it in higher risk airports that refuse to use scanners, why not here?  Reliance of technology detracts from the ulimate detector of human  deception i.e. other humans not machines that can be easily fooled. 

4 on 17/12/12 by Lawrie

No scanning, yes please good idea provided they train security people in plain clothes with a smile and badge to engage people in conversation and look them in the eye and say "Where you off to Sir/Madam'  People trained to look for suspicous behaviour.  People with skills like 'The Mentalist' they do it in higher risk airports that refuse to use scanners, why not here?  Reliance of technology detracts from the ulimate detector of human  deception i.e. other humans not machines that can be easily fooled. 

8 on 12/12/12 by Himeno

These scanners ARE the same as those used in the US. They are L3 Provision MMW scanners. The same as those used by the TSA, DfT and in AMS and BKK. (TSA also uses other scanners). The ONLY difference between these and those first installed in the US is that a computer reads the raw nude image and creates a "comic" figure for the operater to view. The raw image is STILL there and CAN be accessed.

These scanners are pointless, do the terroists work for them, and don't even work, while creating a much better target then there was before. They don't scan the sides of the body and anything can thus be hidden there. This has been tested and there are videos on Youtube to prove it ( - this is the SAME scanner being rolled out in Australia). These scanners are slow and cause major delays. Someone wanting to blow something up will simply just blow up in the line.


The 'no scan, no fly' was added AFTER all testing and consultation and was a complete reversal of what was stated during that process. They might as well have not done the consultation process at all. They then ignored every submission to both house and senate enquires of the bill, and ignored the senate committee report.


The government has refused to answer any questions asked about the scanners and has ignored every comment about it from the public. They have also repeatedly lied about how these scanners work. There has been a report of someone getting cancer from extended mobile phone use. The MMW scanners are more dangerous the phones. The radiation put out is much closer to a mircowave then that used by moblie phones or radio.

There is no reason for them, they don't work, aren't needed and aren't wanted.

1 on 12/12/12 by Himeno

These scanners have also never been properly tested. They have only had operational tests, which have also shown extremely high rates of false positives. They have never been tested for safety or possible medical issues – or even to see if they operate the way the manufacture claims.

9 on 13/12/12 by Lawrie

Three things I would like to add that no one has commented that I do not believe has been mentioned before.  

Firstly, I wrote to the 'Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency'  and asked will physical testing of the scanners will be done by Australian Scientists to ensure the device are safe?

An extracts from their reply was:


ARPANSA has reviewed detailed safety reports [...] any additional physical testing by ARPANSA is not warranted and is unlikely to reveal any information other than what is already known [...]


When I reviewed the URLs of those that produced the safety report they were all oversea's companies and institutions with connections to the MIC, the US Military Industrial Complex which profits from selling their scanners and other things around the world. 

Prior to this I wrote to the Transport Minister to point out that the CEO of one of the companies that form a network of companies inclusive of those manufacturing scanners was the former boss of US Homeland Security noting that his former employees visited his office to encourage our Government to buy scanners.   The Minister wrote back saying words to the effect, that in introducing scanners our privacy would be considered, no comment on the connection btw Homeland Security and the MIC companies. 

Thirdly, I wrote to the Body Scanner Implementation Team because there is no lawful direction written into legislation to the effect that your can be ordered to put your hands above your head in a traditional act of surrender to authority.  They wrote back, words to the effect 'Yes your right'  Thus instead of saying 'Hands up or I will shoot' it is a matter of 'Hands Up or you don't travel'  Get the point, your conditioned to authority, 'Guilty until proven slave'.




1 on 13/12/12 by Himeno

The only replies I got from anyone in government were extracts of the transport ministers speeches on the topic (all of which I saw) and said replies were promptly debunked by my reply. I never heard anything back. About 80% of the queries I sent out were never returned.


All this government is interested in is forcing unneeded and unjustified messes on Australians while lying to and ignoring them.

1 on 14/12/12 by Lawrie

I concur with what your saying.  The best way to get a reply is write a concise letter with specific quesitons, print it, sign it, and snail mail it to the right person in the department after you have made inquires to learn whom that may be.  It also helps if you link your question to something raised in a submission that was accepted by a Senate Inquiry which is what I normally do, if I can.   


I also agree with what your saying about lying to and ignoring the public,  most politicians don't seem to understand that public authority rules over political decisions.  It has been and still is the top telling the bottom how it is going to be, and never a case of the top asking the bottom how they want it to be. 

1 on 14/12/12 by Himeno

I sent submissions to both House and Senate inquires, then followed it up with contacts to both my local and federal reps/senators, the Transport minister and the Shadow transport minister. The only replies I got back were cut/paste jobs from the error ridden and easily ripped apart DIT/minister statements. Never got a reply back when I pocked holes in their statements.

Also sent a question to the Immigration minister regarding a statement made about what would happen when foreigners who *have* to leave the country refuse to be scanned. Never heard back.

The way they did the public consultation, saying there would be an opt out available, and everything in the consultation running under that plan, only to then change it when the bill was tabled with no warning just *has* to be illegal, they might as well have not done the public consultation at all. The entire thing was rendered useless the moment they tabled the bill.


The only people in Parliament who have been listening to the people about these things are the Greens…

2 on 7/3/13 by Michael

In the morning to you lawrie

I travel overseas for work as well, and last roster I chose not to go through the scanner which as you know meant that I didn't go to work for that roster I was able to get a medical Cert to cover last trip. I am due to go back soon and if selected again I will be out of a job, not what I had planed. I would be very interested to see all the correspondence that you have had as I will have some unexpected time available to me and I may be able to use the info in my quest to try and change the stance of the government on this issue.  

10 on 14/12/12 by Lawrie

No physical testing of scanners by Australian scientists to ensure they are safe. TSA and others in the US are making claims and being paid out with regard to cancer clusters, and those that say they are safe at part of a network of companies that make money out of security sold world wide in their efforts to create a prison planet. Israel airports don't use scanners they have people informally and formally talking to people from the moment they step inside the airport until they get on a plane. Scanners defeat the purpose of interaction on a personal level because at the end of the day humans are the best detectors of suspicious activity and not a machine that sees within a narrow frequency of input. If the high risk airport of Israel sees scanners are valueless to their security than why do we see them as being valuable in ours. The other things that concerns me is the trade secret of the precise frequency used, because some scientists have red lettered the technology saying firstly the maths is wrong because it is dose based on mass, and not dose based on skin area where the energy is concentrated, and secondly the narrow band frequency with the range given is the same frequency that breaks down certain DNA, hence perhaps why cancer cluster claiming TSA are getting pay outs. ???

11 on 16/12/12 by Auskiwiflyer

Today at Sydney I was selected for one of these scans.

Having travelled extensivly in USA earlier this year I told the guy I wanted to opt out as is perfectly acceptable there. He told me I couldn't. I have an electrical issue with my heart and I also get enough radiation when flying that I don't want to increase my dose every time I go through Sydney which is alot. The guy didn't want to know, so I asked for his supervisor.

The supervisor came and was very polite but told me literally I would need to go through or not fly. I told him I was happy to be strip searched, but he said it wasn't relevant.

I couldn't belelive that I was being forced to do something as invasive as this with no warning or no other option but not to fly. He told me to take that option would also involve AFP for the formalities. I told him I was prepared to sacrifice my flight and to call the AFP over. 

Seeing how firmly i was standing my ground  the supervisor spoke to someone higher and then they spoke to someone higher still (in canberra). After about 45 minutes, they agreed to let me through both a pat down & residue tests.

In the whole 45 minutes I was standing next to the machine, not 1 other person even tried to opt out. My feeling is that most people didn't understand this was any different than walking through the metal detector.

I am appalled that the govt of Australia can totally remove the civil liberties I thought I had by forcing me to undergo such a procedure.

More people need to stand up to this.




1 on 16/12/12 by Himeno

We tried. The government ignored everything the public said.

2 on 17/12/12 by Lawrie

Auskiwiflyer I understand what your saying. Policitians think that public authority no longer exists and that their decisions and their opinions are the only ones that count.  Those sheep-people are so conditioned by authority that if someone in uniform pointed them in the direction of a cliff they would all walk forward stopping just short of the cliff until someone at the back pushed them forward causing them to fall with a  shout of 'Why me!"

They all stood their hands above their head in surround to authority. 

Your one of the lucky ones.  If there is an emergency, eight people will stand there like dears in headlights, one will act in a way that endangers everyone, and one will act decisively and take appropriate action.  Your that one, the thinker. 

3 on 17/12/12 by KG

If you have a medical problem (heart condition) and you would have increased risk when being exposed to radiation, wouldn't you have a medical ground to be exempt from going through the scanners? Do you carry a letter from your doctor stating your condition? Or did you specifically want to opt out due to the fact that residual risks on potential side effects (cancer?) has or has not been tested?

It is good for you in the end that you were able to opt out, it seems that some procedure was correctly followed (even though it was firmly stated before there was no opt out possibility). I have no issue with people opting out as long as it does not affect the flow of other passengers not wanting to opt out to go through the scan (which it seems it did not as you remarked other passengers went through the scanner).

1 on 17/12/12 by Himeno

They said all through the public consultation and testing periods that opt outs would be allowed. That was only changed when the bill was tabled and was changed with no warning.

There are a number of implanted medical devices that are *damaged* by these machines with the medical device manufactures’ and doctors recommending not going through them. Thus far, operators of the scanners have a hard time believing that the scanners can damage anything.

In the US, most people go through the scanners for two reasons. They don’t know they can opt out (when someone opts out, it is often followed by a number of others), or they are scared that if they do, they will miss their flight.


As for me, I can not assume and hold the required position for a scan. I have always opted out of them where used in the US and been able to avoid them in the UK (which is in breach of EU law requiring that opt outs be allowed). Every other airport I've been through with the scanners have had them turned off (ie, ICN). I am yet to see if "can not assume and hold position" is good enough for the brainless fools on Capital Hill and in DIT.

I would like to see someone pull a Jon Corbett on the scanners here and prove (to the media) that they are more then useless.

12 on 17/12/12 by Hold the Peas

I flew out of Melbourne on Thursday and there was no random selection happening there. The security queue on the far left was using the scanner, if you joined that queue then you went through the scanner instead of the usual metal detector one. I didn't even release until I was standing in the next queue. These two queues were where the express pass holders were being directed too....

1 on 17/12/12 by Lawrie

The Israel airport security don't use scanners they have people talking to people. These security people are trained to look for suspicious behavour in an environment designed to relax travellers so that those that are there to do harm are more easily detected.

 Here air port security herded people like sheep into a  QUEUE confined to a semi-enclosed area, a place where the impacts of a bomb can do the most damage.    

1 on 17/12/12 by Himeno

Israeli security experts find the idea of the scanners laughable and have repeatedly stated that they could easily get enough explosives through them to bring down a 747.

13 on 28/12/12 by StudentMelb

If they decide to use the body scanners, they have to make sure that everyone's scanned. I have just passed the customs at Sydney airport and was ordered to go get a body scan. After that, I was pulled aside to get another kind of body line scan for no good reason.  He was not even polite. He was speaking in a rude intonation, too. And, he just placed a piece of paper very close to my face and asked whether I have had a body line scan. I asked the him why I was being scanned the second time, he said 'Nothing'... (well, is that even a proper answer?). What's this all about??? Have the staff at Sydney airport receive training to spot more suspicious people? Even in the US is not this strict and the staff are more polite.

1 on 28/12/12 by Himeno

Inbound customs isn't outbound security. Different scanners for different things.

The customs scanners can be useful (if used the right way) the security scanners are useless unneeded wastes of money.


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