A state appeals court today ordered the New York City Police Department to release information on the health risks of the unmarked X-ray vans that it uses to covertly detect explosives.
But the panel overturned a lower court’s ruling that required the department to disclose records on when and where the vans had been used, its policies on van usage, or how much the vans cost, agreeing with the NYPD that concerns over terrorism outweighed the public interest.
For the past four years, ProPublica has sought information about the secretive NYPD counterterrorism program that uses the vans equipped with X-ray machines. The vans can drive alongside vehicles or buildings to find organic materials such as drugs and explosives that may be hidden inside.
But because the vans use backscatter X-rays, which bounce back from the target to create an image, they may also expose unknowing drivers, passengers and pedestrians to ionizing radiation, which can increase the risk of cancer. The X-ray vans are similar to the airport body scanners that were removed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration over privacy concerns in 2013.