"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
— Motto from A Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, published in 1759 by Benjamin Franklin
As many readers are undoubtedly aware, the Illusion of Security Administration — er, I mean, the Transportation
Security Administration — has introduced new invasive screening procedures which are ostensibly intended to make it easier for authorities to catch would-be terrorists before they can board a commercial flight.
In reality, all the new procedures do is empower a few thousand federal employees across the nation to look at naked pictures of airline passengers, or feel up their genitals (and for women, breasts)
, at taxpayer expense.
Whole body scanners, which the TSA calls "Advanced Imaging Technology", and which many critics are calling porno scanners, come in two varieties.
The first uses a millimeter wave to create an image of a passenger's naked body. The other uses a backscatter x-ray to accomplish the same thing. Originally, the TSA claimed these machines would only be used as secondary screening measures, but for no good reason, they are now being employed as the primary screening method at many airports, including SeaTac.
Passengers can choose not to go through the machines, but those who make that decision may be subjected to what the TSA calls an "enhanced pat-down", which is a bureaucratic way of saying that a TSA employee has the power to aggressively manipulate their hands all over passengers' bodies.
The following is a compilation of excerpts from articles about TSA's invasive new procedures, covering their ineffectiveness, health hazards, and privacy implications.
I. Whole body scanners don't work and are a waste of money.
A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install "useless" imaging machines at airports across the country.
"I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747," Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.
"That's why we haven't put them in our airport," Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.
— Full-body scanners are waste of money, Israeli expert says
(Canwest News Service, published April 23rd, 2010)
II. The TSA's procedures greatly inconvenience passengers but do not actually provide real protection against would-be hijackers.
“Counterterrorism in the airport is a show designed to make people feel better,” [cyrptographer and security expert Bruce Schneier] said. “Only two things have made flying safer: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” This assumes, of course, that al-Qaeda will target airplanes for hijacking, or target aviation at all. “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schneier said.
He believes that the country would be just as safe as it is today if airport security were rolled back to pre-9/11 levels. “Spend the rest of your money on intelligence, investigations, and emergency response.”
— The Things He Carried
(by Jeffrey Goldberg, feature piece for The Atlantic, published in the magazine's November 2008 edition)
III. The TSA's whole-body scanners were explicitly designed with image storing and sending abilities. Only TSA policy supposedly prevents these capabilities from being used, and it could be changed at any time.
A privacy group says the Transportation Security Administration is misleading the public with claims that full-body scanners at airports cannot store or send their graphic images.
The TSA specified in 2008 documents that the machines must have image storage and sending abilities, the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) said.
In the documents, obtained by the privacy group and provided to CNN, the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in "test mode."
That requirement leaves open the possibility the machines — which can see beneath people's clothing — can be abused by TSA insiders and hacked by outsiders, said EPIC Executive Director Marc Rotenberg.
EPIC, a public-interest group focused on privacy and civil rights, obtained the technical specifications and vendor contracts through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The written requirements also appear to contradict numerous assurances the TSA has given the public about the machines' privacy protections.
— Body scanners can store, send images, group says
(by Jeanne Meserve and Mike M. Ahlers, CNN, published January 11th, 2010)
BY THE WAY:
EPIC's letter to the Transportation Security Administration requesting that deployment of the whole-body scanners be canceled is available for your reading pleasure
IV. The backscatter version of the TSA's whole-body scanners may increase your risk of getting cancer, according to scientists.
US scientists are warning that radiation from controversial full-body airport scanners has been dangerously underestimated and could lead to an increased risk of skin cancer - particularly in children.
University of California biochemist David Agard said that unlike other scanners, the radiation from these devices is delivered at low energy beam levels, with most of the dose concentrated in the skin and underlying tissue.
“While the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” Dr Agard said.
"Ionizing radiation such as the X-rays used in these scanners have the potential to induce chromosome damage, and that can lead to cancer."
— 'Naked' scanners may increase cancer risk
(by Kate Schneider, news.com.au, published May 19, 2010)
BY THE WAY:
The full text of the letter sent by the University of California at San Francisco scientists to President Obama's Office of Science and Technology Policy is available at the University's website
V. Airline pilots are refusing to be subjected to the scanners because they are ineffective and invasive. Pilots are also objecting to being groped and fondled in hand searches.
Pilot unions at two of the nation's largest airlines are advising their members not to submit to body scanners at airport security checkpoints as tension grows over what they see as intrusive or risky checks.
Unions representing pilots at American Airlines and US Airways have advised their more than 14,000 members to avoid the scanners, which peer beneath clothing, and instead get a pat down from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers.
— Unions tell pilots to avoid body scanners at airports
(by Alan Levin, USA Today, published November 11th, 2011)
VI. TSA employees have been caught (or suspected of) stealing passengers' personal property in the past and cannot be trusted to safeguard travelers' privacy and belongings.
In February, Michelle Sugg's $3,000 watch disappeared from one of the bins as it went through x-ray at a JFK checkpoint. She strongly suspects a TSA agent took it and that she finds deeply disturbing.
"They're stealing from us, this is a national security issue. What if somebody gives them $10,000 and says 'look the other way, let's put this bag through?'" said Sugg.
Gwen Bartlett and her mother lost $940 dollars in cash from a bag as they recently went through JFK screening.
She was hopeful security cameras would reveal her suspicion that a TSA worker stole it.
"The cameras were actually pointed at the exits and they couldn't pinpoint my security lane because the videos weren't showing in that area at that time," Bartlett said.
— Investigation into alleged TSA thefts at JFK Airport
(by Jim Hoffer, WABC-TV New York, published May 17th, 2010)
VII. The TSA supposedly exists to enforce the law and keep us safe, but too many of its own agents behave inappropriately or unprofessionally, and seem to think they're above the law.
A TSA agent was arrested on January 3rd in Terminal One at LAX, a source told NBCLA. He had just gotten off duty and was behaving erratically, saying, "I am god, I’m in charge."
Meanwhile, a TSA Internal Affairs investigation turned up evidence of LAX TSA agents using drugs at an after-hours party.
TSA officials say a videotape of the party was of poor quality and the employees were not in uniform, but 4 employees were tentatively identified.
All 4 were tested for drugs. One came back positive and that employee was fired.
— TSA Agent Arrested at LAX
(by Kim Baldonado and Scott Weber, NBC Los Angeles, published January 6th, 2010)
VIII. The Department of Homeland Security's own Inspector General has previously faulted the TSA for lax security policies, including repeatedly failing to revoke access to employees who had left the agency.
The agency overseeing security at the nation's airports failed for years to track security passes and uniforms of former employees, creating widespread vulnerability to terrorists, says a government watchdog report obtained by USA TODAY.
The Transportation Security Administration lacked centralized controls over the secure passes issued to some of its employees, according to Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard Skinner. The passes grant people access to the most sensitive areas of an airport, such as where baggage is screened or planes are parked.
Investigators found numerous cases in which former employees retained their passes long after they had left the agency.
— Report slams TSA failure to track security passes
(by Alan Levin, USA Today, published October 12th, 2008)
The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration have offered no proof that their invasive new screening procedures make America safer, let alone pass constitutional muster. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution — which is part of the Bill of Rights — reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
If TSA's new procedures — which have been described in graphic detail by many travelers — aren't a violation of the Fourth Amendment, then we don't know what is. It's outrageous that more Americans aren't outraged about what's happening in our nation's airports. No one should have to submit to this harassment.
Incidentally, not many of the news reports about the TSA's invasive scanners have mentioned that the House of Representatives incorporated a bill called the Aircraft Passenger Whole-Body Imaging Limitations Act of 2009 (H.R. 2027
) into its last reauthorization bill for TSA
, which passed on June 4th, 2009.
The bill has expired in the Senate, which did not act on it in time, but the provision could easily be tacked into some other bill as an amendment.
The provision requires that whole-body scanners not
be used as a primary screening mechanism. The original text of H.R. 2027
is available on Thomas
Outspoken libertarian Ron Paul, meanwhile, has introduced a bill of his own, which would prohibit TSA employees from escaping punishment for misconduct by hiding behind immunity. It's called the American Traveler Dignity Act (H.R. 6416
It is fairly simple, and its text is as follows:
To ensure that certain Federal employees cannot hide behind immunity.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. NO IMMUNITY FOR CERTAIN AIRPORT SCREENING METHODS.
No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual's body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual's parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.
It's become evident that TSA and the Department of Homeland Security have no intention of scrapping their invasive new procedures, so ending this travesty is going to require action on the part of Congress and the President.
To the right: President Obama met with TSA Administrator John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano last month. Photo by White House photographer Pete Souza. Reproduced with permission.
President Obama could step in and take immediate action by signing an executive order directing TSA not to use whole-body scanners as a primary screening mechanism. Unfortunately, it appears the President and his team are entirely unconcerned about the matter. From today's press gaggle aboard Air Force One:
QUESTION: On the TSA, does the White House support the actions with the magnetometer and the pat-down, or are you likely to maybe roll back those actions, especially with this chaotic week coming up?
ROBERT GIBBS: Well, look, I will say that we have all seen over the course of the past year that there are organizations like al Qaeda that continue with the intent on inflicting harm and damage in this country through airliners. I think what TSA has set up and what the public greatly supports — I think there was a CBS poll that said four out of five Americans are supportive of increased security to ensure that you feel rightly safe when you get on an airplane. I think the way — I think TSA administering this in a way that makes the public feel safe and comfortable is important, as well as implementing it to ensure the protection of privacy is important.
But, again, I think there is overwhelming support for ensuring that there is -- that people feel as safe as they can when they get on an airline.
QUESTION: But if somebody has a medical condition -- for example, if a woman is pregnant, can they be excused from the magnetometer?
ROBERT GIBBS: I will say this — I would point you over to DHS and TSA who will have more granularity on what all that means.
Gibbs, of course, gets to fly on Air Force One, so he doesn't have any idea what regular folks are going through when they clear security at a major airport. It's not surprising that he would cite that CBS poll, which is meaningless. Most of its respondents have no idea what these new procedures entail, and haven't suffered the indignity of having TSA employees sliding their hands over their bodies.
If they had, they'd feel differently.
This post has gotten rather long, so I'll end it by recommending several websites that have much more information, including details on protests planned for November 24th, which is less than a week away.
Remember, if you're flying this Thanksgiving, you have the right to opt-out of the porno-scanners. Just say, calmly, "I opt out" ... and they can't force you to go through. You may be groped and fondled, but at least you won't be virtually strip-searched, and you won't be subjected to x-rays.