CAPE MAY, N.J. – The Department of Homeland Security has
deployed a mobile X-ray truck in a program that peeks into
the unoccupied cars of drivers waiting to board the ferry
The program uses a van that previously had been deployed in
border cargo searches to take X-ray pictures of parked
cars. The low dosage X-ray shows any organic material,
including explosives and drugs, as a dense white mass on a
computer screen, while steel and other materials appear in
The van snaps pictures as it moves along a line of cars at
the pace of a stroll, but the manufacturer says the unit
can scan when moving at up to 6 mph.
Federal officials said because scans would be voluntary, no
privacy issues were involved. Edward L. Barocas, legal
director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New
Jersey, said he could not discuss the new surveillance
program in detail until he became familiar with it, but
said drivers generally have an expectation of privacy for
those parts of their cars that are not visible to those
He said the United States Supreme Court ruled in 2001 that
it was illegal for authorities to search homes from outside
using infrared scanning without a search warrant, but also
noted, "Obviously in border searches the government is
given a much broader leeway than elsewhere."
The cars scanned were rental cars used by government
workers participating in a demonstration. It took less than
a minute for the van to pass each car.
For now, the scan at the Cape May-Lewes Ferry will be
voluntary, said Carol DiBattiste, deputy director of the
Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Drivers who agree to have their car scanned during the 30-
day testing phase will be asked to leave their cars and to
remove pets. The X-ray dosage is not harmful to
photographic film, food or any other contents of the car,
DiBattiste said a decision to make the inspections
compulsory had not been made.
"Right now our focus is on ferries," DiBattiste said, "but
eventually this technology could be used for any vehicle
security information." She said the ferry vehicle scanning
program was part of an effort to use advanced technology in
government crime prevention and anti-terror efforts.
The $600 X-ray unit is called the Z Backscatter Van, and
was developed and built by American Science & Engineering
Inc. of Billerica, Mass. The company says about 60 vans
have been sold to various governments.