When he helped invent full-body security scanners 30 years ago, Dr. Martin Annis never imagined the firestorm it would ignite at airports this Thanksgiving.
“I’m a scientist,” the 88-year-old Cambridge resident said about creating the so-called “naked” scanners that take X-rays of passengers, including their genitals.
“I was trying to invent a machine that would cause no harm to people.”
Logan Airport was the first to get the scanners in March but controversy recently erupted after the TSA started aggressively patting down those who opt out of the scans.
“The system exaggerates the amount of fat people have so if you look at the images, they are not very flattering to people,” said Annis, who founded the Massachusetts-based company American Science & Engineering that developed the technology.
He said the scanner’s health risks are being overblown too, noting that the machine exposes passengers to less radiation than a chest X-ray. A recent poll found 81 percent of Americans support the machine. Nevertheless, an Internet-organized protest is asking travelers to “opt out” of the scans on Wednesday, the year’s busiest travel day.
“The pat down is unbelievably more obnoxious [than the scanners],” Annis said.
Currently, Annis is working on a version of the scanner that emits less radiation as well as another machine to scan cargo containers for weapons.
“What a terrorist could do is put a nuclear weapon in a sea cargo container,” Annis said. “Lets say that ship came into Boston Harbor, it could explode.”