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Feds admit storing checkpoint body scan images (cnet.com)
145 points by Rod on Aug 4, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

I'm shocked, shocked! that electronic strip searches might be misused by the crack team of professionals at the TSA.

This is very simple:

(a) call these things what they are: electronic strip searches.

(b) refuse to submit to them at the airport.

I just did this on a flight from Kansas City. Guess what? Not a big deal. You'll get the same pat-down search you get when you're "randomly selected for additional screening", which is not a big deal. It'll add 5 minutes to the security line for you.

To those who suggest that the pat-down searches are as intrusive or more intrusive than the electronic strip searches: no. By and large, the human beings manning the security checkpoints are as squeamish about invading the personal space of another actual human being looking them in the eyes as you are about having your space invaded.

The same is not true of a series of images on a screen in an isolated room. Images on screens are not people. There is no social conditioning that normal human beings have that will cause people to automatically respect images on a screen.

Step 1 in defending your rights from ludicrous invasions like this: be an actual person, not an abstraction.

To those who suggest that the pat-down searches are as intrusive or more intrusive than the electronic strip searches: no

I haven't been through an electronic strip search, so I can't speak to that. I can speak to the last time I had a pat-down at the airport: I found it pretty invasive. I've never thought of myself as a big "personal space" guy, but here is this TSA agent, grabbing aggressively at all of my pockets, having me empty them out for him, etc. All the while, I'm angry, but I know that I can't complain or give him a hard time because he's in a position of power to give me a much harder time, make me miss my flight, whatever. It's so frustrating when you know it's just security theatre, and doesn't do anything besides make people feel safer.

When I asked "must we do this?" he gave me the option of doing it in private (no thank you) and told me that I consented to this by entering the checkpoint. It's like click-wrap licensing, only with your feet.

There is no third option for people who don't want their nude photos persisted who also don't like being groped by strangers.

I can't recall where I heard/read that, but I seem to remember some psychology research that proposed that the psychologically damaging thing about the search you describe is not actually the search itself, but precisely the fact that you can't do anything about it.

IIRC, the conclusion of that research was something along the lines of: to completely destroy someone's self-confidence/emotional stability, all you need to do is that every day, for five minutes, at the same time, five people appear out of nowhere and hold him down, without harming him, for five minutes. If you do that every day for a year or two, you'll have a remnant of a human being at the end (in most cases).

My father works with victims of "mobbing" (basically bullying at work). One of his clients was a normal office worker who was being bullied by the security guard at work. Every morning, the security guard would single him out for a pat down search - every single morning. Apparently the guy was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by the time my dad saw him.

I have to ask: why would a security guard in a normal office situation have the authority to randomly pat down someone who is known to work in the building?

I don't know, I never asked... I think it was a government job... there might have been some special security. No idea, though, sorry.

FWIW, my son was selected for a pat-down search when we flew in Canada on a domestic flight. Notwithstanding the logic of deciding that a 10 year old carrying a Nintendo DS was a security threat, the agent was quite respectful, asking for my permission first, being very clear what was going on, and performing the pat-down in a professional (to my eyes) and efficient manner.

The guy who screened me said "I may need to touch you near a sensitive area now, just let me know if you have a problem, I'm going to use the back of my hand only" something like 5 times, so I'm pretty sure they're scripted to be "respectful".

The (unfortunate) third option is not flying, or at least not commercially and via airlines.

The same is not true of a series of images on a screen in an isolated room. Images on screens are not people. There is no social conditioning that normal human beings have that will cause people to automatically respect images on a screen.

I'd argue that has pretty much been proven by the Milgram experiment.


While I believe the article is correct, and later experiments probably bear it out, Milgram's experiments don't directly support that cliam: The "teacher" (the subject) could not see the person he believed he was shocking at all.

Nonetheless, it's a relevant link to bring up because of the chain of command and obedience to authority aspects at play here.

There were several variations. In one variation the `teacher' could see the `pupil'.

In another variation, the teacher actually had to physically press the (fake) pupil's hands onto the device that gave electric shocks. IIRC, this squicked out a few more people, but quite a large portion still went through with it.

Proximity to the teacher was the biggest influencer rather than proximity to the student. When the teacher was further away (in some simply on a phone) the subject would more frequently refuse, more so than when they were in close proximity to the student.

Proximity to the student shouldn't be ruled out, after all it would get a few more people behaving like they really should, however its these screening people's proximity to their bosses that is the biggest influence on whether they treat a person with humanity or not.

Are you mixing up `teacher' and experimentator? Because the subject who's tested is the `teacher' and can't be far away from herself.

Object while you can, before it's mandatory to surrender all civil rights in order to fly.

These millimeter wave devices aren't being installed in a secret plot to eliminate everyone's civil rights. They're being installed because regulators sincerely believe that they represent a reasonable compromise between privacy (which is actually not one of your ironclad civil liberties) and safety.

Airport security is probably a bad joke. But acting and talking as if that's a foregone conclusion --- or worse, that it's part of some malignant scheme --- is counterproductive. It marginalizes everyone with a more reasonable or nuanced perspective about this issue.

Take off the "Buck Fush" t-shirt and be civil to the TSA guy. Say "I'm going to opt out of the body scanner". If enough people do, it'll get easier for everyone to avoid the electronic strip search machine.

> These millimeter wave devices aren't being installed in a secret plot to eliminate everyone's civil rights.

There likely is no plot to eliminate civil rights, however, devices like these erode privacy, increase distrust in government, and, worse, increase the time and comfort it takes to get from point A to point B.

From the late 80s to today we've gone from a time when only metal detectors were required to get back to a gate, to requiring tickets (making it more inconvenient and less safe for small children to fly alone), removing clothing in public view (shoes, belts, outer garments), unpacking/packing luggage in public view, potentially being patted down, heavily paramilitary patrolling gateways, detainment for arbitrary reasons, etc.

I worry more about running into a TSA agent in a bad mood (potentially ruining my day) than just about anything else when traveling.

Re: Children - at least the TSA has some clue about this: "...arrangements may be made for non-travelers to accompany children. Contact your airline to make arrangements."

Eliminating civil rights isn't the goal; like much of the evil in the world, it will be a side-effect of people who thought they were doing the right thing.

Thomas speaks much sense here. Relatedly, that is exactly the attitude you should take with cops who try to ask you questions or seize your papers or effects. "I respectfully decline. If you are not arresting me, I am leaving; if you do not have a search warrant, leave my property expeditiously. Have a nice day."

There are a number of charges that you can be arrested for at the sole discretion of the officer. I've heard exchanges like:

  officer: Don't go anywhere
  friend: Am I under arrest?
  officer: No, but don't go anywhere.
  friend: If I'm not under arrest, then I'm leaving.
  officer: If you leave, I *will* arrest you with impeding an investigation / obstruction of justice
(That exchange followed from someone not involved in a protest, who was filming police officers trying to contain a protest. They tried to fine her friend $400 for littering (i.e. a candy wrapper that was already on the ground) or something equally ridiculous when you consider the amount of time (and tax-payer money) that they wasted harassing her and her friends.)

Also, in a number of jurisdictions, you can be arrested for being 'drunk and disorderly' with only the officer's word that you were actually drunk and/or causing a scene.

Keep in mind, that it doesn't matter much whether or not the charges stick. The police have successfully harassed you if you have to spend the night (or weekend) in prison before you are able to get out (and/or get the charges dismissed).

{update} Some corrections. Also, the 'investigation' that was being impeded was a $400 fine for littering a candy wrapper (ignoring whether or not the candy wrapper was actually littered).

Your first example is naive. The police cannot arrest you absent an actual crime, but they can detain you for a "reasonable" amount of time; if you simply walk away from an officer, you are in fact impeding an investigation. There is a clear difference between an arrest and being "detained": during an arrest, the police can search you and your vehicle, put you in restraints, and drive you away to a police station.

That there are subjective offenses you can be arrested for and that the police could abuse strikes me as a simple fact of life. You can also file complaints, (in most jurisdictions) record the abuse with your camera phone, and (in crazy cases) sue.

In my example, the people were 'detained' for a few hours, during which they were not asked any questions at all. They just had to sit around at the police station twiddling their thumbs. In my mind, this just police intimidation. Some police officer didn't like them or what they were doing, so they decided to harass them. I don't think that, as a society, we should just accept this as a fact of life. By doing so, we give the police carte blanche to continue doing so, and to attempt to push the envelope even further.

If a cop ever pulls that on you, lawyer up instantly. If you're not free to leave, you're under arrest, regardless of what state they say you are in, whether they have mirandized you, etc.

Again, you can be "not free to leave" for a whole hour on the side of the street and have a judge call that a "reasonable" period to detain you for questioning. You're not under arrest while that's occurring. A bunch of other processes get set in motion once you're arrested, all of them bad.

Probably don't overreact if you hear a cop say "stop, get back over here!" or "no, you may not leave until I get to the bottom of this!"; they're legally authorized to do that pretty much on a whim.

If you've been handcuffed or transported or confined in a police station, you're under arrest, and yes, demand a lawyer.

Can you say a bit more about "lawyering up"? I'm not sure what you mean. Do you mean specifically to call a lawyer, or imply that you have one... etc. Thanks.

"They're being installed because regulators sincerely believe that they represent a reasonable compromise between privacy (which is actually not one of your ironclad civil liberties) and safety."

No, they're being installed for profit. They have nothing to do with civil rights and even less to do with security -- I highly doubt that anyone involved actually cares about either.

What they do care about is milking money from the government by taking advantage of the asinine government contracting and acquisitions processes -- and most likely also the fact that fattening the right wallets greases the right wheels to make things very profitable for them.

> (which is actually not one of your ironclad civil liberties)

Not in the US, anyway.

Thankfully, there's Europe, which has progressed considerably further than the U.S. in terms of actually protecting people's rights.

Having had the experience of observing the frontiers of my civil rights while being searched on the train from Zurich to Rome, I find this notion that things are better in Europe amusing. From what I can tell, the situation Americans find themselves in at the TSA checkpoints is identical to the situation all Europeans find themselves in everywhere.

You realize that (contrary to popular opinion) Americans don't even need to carry ID, right?

Flying between Schengen countries, 99% of the time I have my bag X-Rayed and my ID checked by airline staff on check-in, and that's it. At no point do I even have contact with a government official.

Land border crossings are even more of a non-event, you have to pay attention or you might miss them. In some countries you can indeed be IDd on the spot though. Not that it's ever happened to me (except by traffic police checking my license).

Entering or leaving the Schengen area is a slightly different story - you pass through emigration/immigration, plus some countries like the UK are slightly more draconian about air travel "security" and have body scanners. I assume your trip was before Switzerland's entry to the Schengen zone in December 2008?

It was prior to that, but it wasn't at a border crossing. It was a drug search inside the borders of Switzerland.

As a German I need to have an ID card, but do not need to carry it with me. The same is true for many other EU states.

Civil liberties are apparently in decline everywhere, but I would argue that the EU is somewhat better than the US in that regard and that the actual abuse of laws is better in the EU.

I think you are slightly overacting. It could be that you as a non-EU-citizen were subjected to harsher standards. May I remind you that the US isn't that nice to non-citizens?

Are you sure? In Germany:

* Can the state police demand that you open a bag for inspection on a train?

* Can you be detained at length (for instance, removed to a police station) if you're asked to identify yourself and don't have documentation?

* Are the police under any circumstances permitted to randomly stop and search cars?

* Can the police check your pockets during a pat-down search for weapons?

Each of these is something for which US jurisprudence has issued decisive and binding decisions (no, absent probable cause they can document and justify on the stand, they can't open your bag; no, unless they arrest you for an actual crime, they can't take you to a police station; no, under most circumstances the police can't even pull you over unless you've committed a "primary" offense, and cannot absent probable cause of an actual crime search your car; no, the police in the US can't demand to see the contents of your pockets).

Incidentally, you have the same protection under the 4th Amendment as a German citizen in the US as I do as someone born in Chicago. I assume that's true vice-versa in Germany as well.

The bag issue is what got me; Swiss police rifled through my bag. I was not the only person in the train car that happened to, so I'm doubting I was simply selected for it as a noncitizen --- not that that should matter.

In Schengen, you might have to have your identity determined by the police at the police station, so yeah, you can be detained for that.

Searches, in Germany, generally demand cause. I have no idea what laws govern searches in Switzerland.

The part with citizens vs non-citizens was mainly about borders. The US is known to be incredibly mean to non-citizens, going so far as to require a visum for transit, whereas Schengen only requires a transit visum for citizens of a small number of states.

It seems strange that Swiss police did a random search. Anyway, it seems that the US police also does random searches—at train stations for example.

Schengen only requires a transit visum for citizens of a small number of states.

Schengen requires a transit visa for citizens of 140 countries. There's only about 40 countries that don't need transit visas. The USA has visa waiver programs with more than 36 countries, and other similar arrangements with Canada, Mexico and states in the Caribbean.

No, the police in the US cannot randomly search you in a train station. The only circumstance in which you can be searched without probable cause without consent in the US is by border security.

It seems that the US police would like to search you at as many locations as possible. In many cases this is not legally possible. However, the German police does not seem to have that attitude, or at least not that extreme. (Remember you are talking to an 18 year old who is not a lawyer.)

It is very apparent that I'm talking to someone who doesn't understand how the law works in the US. I don't hold that against you (why would I? I don't know how it works in Germany!), but I recommend that you develop fewer strong opinions about how things work here until you read a book or two about it.

May I remind you that the US isn't that nice to non-citizens?

Recent extra-legal actions notwithstanding, the US Constitution applies to everyone in the US equally. Citizen or not.

Already the case in the UK as far as I know. Not everyone is required to go through them, and not all airports have them, but if you're one of the "lucky" ones and you refuse, you don't fly.

Can't seem to find the article from some months ago to back this up, unfortunately.

I don't fly from Heathrow airport for this reason. As far as I'm concerned, I do have something to hide: the intimate details of my body are not for the amusement or abuse of random "security" staff. If you don't like that point of view, f@#% off: we voted out the government who tried to turn us into a fear-driven police state, and now we are laughing at all the former ministers when they bleat about how much the world will end when the new government starts undoing all the abusive laws and regulations that the old one imposed.

We did the same thing here in America. Guess what? Nothing changed.

Once a power is taken by the government, it is not likely to let it go. I hope you have better luck than we did.

I sympathise with your predicament. However, from my outsider's point of view, the US political system is something of a different beast to those here in Europe: it now appears to be systemically corrupt, representing special interests rather than those of the common citizen and with well-established feedback loops that make the unfortunate bias stronger with every election.

Consequently, I'm not sure elections in the US really mean very much at the moment. In the grand scheme of things, the two big political parties are closely aligned on most issues. Those distinctions that do exist between them are minor disagreements, which get dramatically exaggerated in election propaganda, rather than differences of any real substance.

I hope that here in the UK, where we have never quite fallen into the trap of having only two big political parties, we have more chance of seeing real improvement. It helps that we didn't give government to any single party at the last general election, for the first time in many years. That must have been a nasty wake-up call for those old-school Conservatives who had arrogantly assumed that they were somehow entitled to form the next government just because Labour were not going to. (Labour, does anybody remember them? No? Good. :-))

Fortunately, the principles of restoring civil liberties and rolling back the nanny/surveillance state are among the major issues on which the two coalition partners now in government strongly agreed anyway, and where there are politicians from both parties in the coalition with a long track record of criticising the sorts of measures we are talking about in this discussion. They need this sort of issue of common interest in order to build a successful and lasting coalition, and it's also a politically popular stance: FUD about terrorism threats doesn't really cut it with the average voter here any more, partly because people's minds are more focussed on basics like getting/keeping a job and paying the rent/mortgage, and partly just because you can only keep a population accepting of draconian laws for so long when there is no serious bad stuff happening to convince them to Be Afraid.

In short, I like to think that we are in with a chance, because while the political system in the US seems to have other systemic concerns and little incentive to put right the abuses of the past, here in the UK it is politically expedient to do so both for the popularity of the changes themselves and as a means of strengthening the governing coalition. Time will tell...

Is there a list of airports (terminals?) where these scanners are being used? I visit family in the UK a couple of times a year, usually by plane, but this is one of the reasons we're taking the car & ferry on the upcoming trip. And yeah, I strongly hope the Tory & LibDem government make good on their civil liberty promises and then some.

To those who suggest that the pat-down searches are as intrusive or more intrusive than the electronic strip searches: no.

There's no objective answer to this. I believe you and I have discussed this before. Personally, the scans don't bother me at all. Being patted down doesn't bother me too much, but it does bother me at least some. So, for me, I'd rather walk through a scanner unobstructed than be patted down.

Would it bother you to find a name-attributed copy of your body scan in a zip file on Rapidshare? Why do you assume that won't happen? I assume the opposite.

Not too much. It would bother me some, of course. But not enough to take the extra five minutes for the alternative. (It seems you assumed I hadn't thought of the worst case, and then further assumed it would bother me.)

I would be embarrassed to walk around naked, of course. But there the embarrassment is mostly from violating social norms. The remaining part is, of course, exposed genitalia. The rest of my body concerns me not at all - I routinely go for runs wearing just athletic shorts.

Further, while that is the worst-worst case, I think the more realistic-worst case are a dump of images with no names associated with them. Given the process as I understand it, I don't see a plausible way for the scan-name mapping to remain.

I'm genuinely curious: why does the worst case situation bother you so much?

The burden of justification for new security measures should be on the TSA. And they have failed at this. This sort of thing is a gross violation of personal privacy, entirely without cause. That it adds expense and delay for no demonstrable increase in plane security is but adding insult to injury.

Hearing people approach security measures with the argument "whatever would you have to hide, citizen?" is the worst part of the ongoing "War on Terror" debacle.

I'm hoping you're playing devil's advocate here.

You misunderstand what I'm saying. I personally find this less invasive than the current security measures.

What default security procedure does an electronic strip search replace, that is more invasive?

Removing your shoes?

Remove shoes, remove belt. Walk through metal detector. Forgot to remove change, so metal detector beeps. Security guy asks if he can scan me with hand-held scanner and I consent. He sweeps it all over, oddly it beeps in places other than my pocket. But it also beeps at my pocket. Security guy asks if he can pat those areas down. I consent. Turn around. More waving, more beeping, maybe more patting down.

Happens to me half the time I walk through a metal detector. Recently, it even beeped when I removed everything I could think of - I don't know what caused the big and small metal detectors to go off. After a simple pat-down, the security guy was satisfied.

If a scanner can even eliminate the time spent doing that, then I'm happy.

Millimeter wave detects objects, it does not generally provide enough context to identify those objects with any certainty. So any object not trivially identifiable in silhouette will still get you pulled aside.

As it detects any object, as opposed to just metal ones, it dramatically increases the chance that you, or any other passenger in queue, will forget something the scan can't rule out and create further delay.

The scan itself is far slower than the metal detector and slower than even the bomb-sniffing machines. Its presence will increase your security queue time, even if you somehow become less forgetful and have hassle-free experiences with the new scanner itself.

You'll have traded a bit more of your privacy and liberty in exchange for increased delay, increased aggravation, increased travel costs, escalated privacy risks and it still won't make your plane trip any safer.

The question you have to ask is not just whether it bothers you, but whether it bothers anyone you care about - and not just "bother", but materially affect them, anything from bullying (think: teenagers at school) to body shame.

And? Why would anyone other than an art student want a body scan of every person going through Chicago on a busy day? What is the horror that will befall me if someone sees me naked?

Someone with a smaller penis than yourself might be embarrassed at his scan getting posted on Facebook or wherever - even if you personally are OK with it.

If you're one of the few people who have their body scans leaked, you'll be a sort of celebrity. If you're one of the many, it'll be no big deal.

The scan pose and false-colors are so clinical that any such image wouldn't be titillating. I suppose it might reveal an embarrassing piercing/implant/deformity. ("OMG! He has a tail!")

As a mechanism for harassment of public figures, it seems less harmful than photoshopped fake nude (or other compromising position) pictures -- and you can't stop those, and they're more likely to mislead the unwary.

I'm concerned about the idea that an arbitrarily detailed personal search can be required before travel -- but that concern applies at least as much to pat-downs and carry-on-searches as body-scans. In fact, probably more, because while we all have naked bodies, an agent rifling through my carry-on sees my books and personal effects -- unique to me.

It wouldn't bother me too much. I am not ashamed of my body and neither should you be.

It is a shame that we as Americans are taught to be afraid of our bodies and nudity in general. Why is this? I think it is a cancer on our culture that we need to change.

Whether you'd like people to change their definition of personal privacy is a very different question from whether it's OK to invade their privacy.

I mean, if I'm poking you in the face with my finger and going 'nya-nya-nya,' and you ask me to stop, and I respond that you really shouldn't be bothered by that because it doesn't hurt you, how convincing would I be?

People don't like having their nudity exposed. Saying "it shouldn't bother them" is really not anyone else's place.

No, it wouldn't bother me. In fact, it might motivate me to put on some muscle and get a little more fit.

Refusing these searches is important even if pat-downs are considered more intrusive. If we all do this, and the machines sit idle; eventually they will be removed.

The machines are never going anywhere; the government invested zillions of dollars in them after the underpants bomber. Too many career civil servants would lose their jobs if they got sidelined.

But you're right: things will improve if most people refuse the strip search; the TSA will get better at pretending to screen the opt-outs, and the machines won't matter anymore.

Wait until some politician's daughter's "scan" shows up in public.

From what I have heard, career civil servants don't often lose their jobs.

One of the reasons for that is that civil service selects for people who are ultra conservative and sensitive about job security, and therefore are unlikely to allow a failed project to actually fail.

The government invests billions of dollars in lots of projects that get sidelined. Just look at Afghanistan.

That random selection for additional screening was really getting to me until I shaved my beard, and it stopped.

random, you say? ;-)

Isn't this an offense? Can't they be sued for lying to the public? Why do they get to get away with this?

It's easy to tell the public you're invading privacy to prevent terrorism. It's hard to tell the public that terrorists killed people because you respected their privacy.

I'm not saying I agree - in fact I completely disagree - but as a public policy maker and politician, it probably seems illogical to do it any other way. Better to have people blame you for no privacy than blame you for death, right?

Also, there are campaign donations to be had from the vendors of full body scanners. Less so from civil liberty groups.

It seems extraordinarily unlikely to me that campaign donations from millimeter wave vendors will exert anything resembling the force that game theory does; to wit, "voting yes to anything that might improve airport security, and avoiding at all costs voting no on something that might later be tied to some catastrophe".

I think kickbacks is a more likely motivation here.

Good comment! Finally info from someone who actually refused it and it's not a horror story.

Salon http://www.salon.com/technology/dan_gillmor/2010/08/04/body_... today bummed me out. They've got the right POV on it, but he's going along with the rest of the press just saying it's a new shitty reality we're going to have to get used to. fuck that!

It will add 5 minutes for everyone else too. Get in a security line on a busy travel day and 10 extra pat-downs will add up. We need a better solution. I want to arrive, with my carry-on luggage, 30 minutes before takeoff for my 1 hour flight home.

The fast-path TSA agents don't do the opt-out pat downs. They couldn't: the search happens in a semi-secluded area of the checkpoint, and the whole line would have to shut down if they didn't have people dedicated to that task. You do not in fact add 5 minutes for everyone else.

What is true is that you may end up in line behind 1 other person waiting for extended screening (if they don't have their ID, or if they got randomly selected), and you may add 5 minutes to those people's time. I have very little problem with that.

I'd refuse (politely) even if I knew I was screwing over the line, though. A strip search is a strip search. It crosses the line.

But you are suggestion everyone "opt out". chaos would ensue.

If I could get everyone to do anything at my command, I'd have a lot more fun with it than simply getting people to opt out of strip searches. Suffice it to say that chaos is not going to ensue, but a helpful amount of backpressure in the system might.

Sorry for inconveniencing you while trying to protect your civil rights. Some people....

By and large, the human beings manning the security checkpoints are as squeamish about invading the personal space of another actual human being looking them in the eyes as you are about having your space invaded.

I think this is partly because they are still new at the game. In certain countries, hand-searches have been the norm for decades. And those officers don't feel quite as squeamish as you do while its going on.

(b) refuse to submit to them at the airport.

From personal experience, that's probably not a good idea if you look South Asian or have a beard. I've been stopped a few too many times in London as part of a "random check" (everytime I hadn't shaved). I wouldn't want to increase the suspicion by being unco-operative.

You'll get the same pat-down search you get when you're "randomly selected for additional screening", which is not a big deal.

Just out of curiosity, did they actually turn you into 'selectee' (mark your boarding pass, etc) or was it just the extra search at the security checkpoint?

I've been selectee'd before, and the search I got for "opting out" (that's what they said, "opt out! we've got an opt out!") was identical. They didn't mark my boarding pass or anything, though. In case you're worried that you'll get re-harassed at the gate... no.

An opt out, I love these guys' verbiage. As a master of personal organization, I've flown without id a few times and yes, I was mostly wondering about the chance of getting an extra search at the gate. Which, really, isn't that big of a deal either and certainly not compared to someone taking digital naked pictures of you.

Great quote in this article:

"For its part, the TSA says that body scanning is perfectly constitutional: "The program is designed to respect individual sensibilities regarding privacy, modesty and personal autonomy to the maximum extent possible, while still performing its crucial function of protecting all members of the public from potentially catastrophic events."

Of course, the weasel words, "to the maximum extent possible" render this a mere sentiment, at fucking best (as Zed might say), meaning of course that your "privacy, modesty and personal autonomy" are toast.

This will sound shockingly heartless and coldly rational, but is the bigger problem with that statement not the idea that a few hundred, or even thousand people dying in a plane-related disaster (when magnitudes more will die of, say, bad diet, alcohol related deaths, or bad foreign policy?) is 'catastrophic'?

A catastrophe is, for example, the former, or spanish influenza. Does what I presume is the historically minute mortality (related to true catastrophes) associated with air travel, worth the cumulative inconvenience to millions, daily, of stupid, irrational rules (like no liquids in containers greater than 100ml, or no exposed sharp metals even though you could probably just take apart the hairdryer or pc cooler that you WERE allowed to take on, and have exactly the same thing)?

Unless realistic assessment of problems is undertaken, is there any foreseeable end to the severity of security measures that will be asked of us? Inflation is inevitable if we allow them to print FUD without checks or ties to the fundamentals.

The title of this submission is false, why did you change it? A federal courthouse in Florida admits to storing the images, not TSA. TSA only admits the machines have the capability to store images, which they say are only used for training/testing purposes.

EPIC is a reputable organization, and have filed a federal lawsuit to help stop this practice. I just sent them a donation, and encourage others to do the same.

I am not a constitutional scholar, but this seems like a violation of the Fourth Amendment. I would likely put random bag searches, and pat-down searches in that category as well.

As an American citizen, without reasonable suspicion of criminal intent, why are searches of this type legal? Has this been challenged in the Supreme Court?


We have held that airport screening searches, like the one at issue here, are constitutionally reasonable administrative searches because they are “conducted as part of a general regulatory scheme in furtherance of an administrative purpose, namely, to prevent the carrying of weapons or explosives aboard aircraft, and thereby to prevent hijackings.”  United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908 (9th Cir.1973);  see also United States v. Hartwell, 436 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 945, 127 S.Ct. 111, 166 L.Ed.2d 255 (2006);  Marquez, 410 F.3d at 616.

The unanimous opinion of the 9th (en banc); extremely unlikely to be overturned. Net-net: you concede the reasonableness of TSA searches by opting to get on a commercial airliner, where your personal safety impacts the safety of hundreds of other people. There are plenty of other ways to effect interstate travel without entering into the same risk equation; they're just less convenient.

It seems worth pointing out that you can affect the safety of as many or more people by walking into a skyscraper, stadium, festival, &c., or by walking near train tracks when a train or two is due to come by, a major bridge during rush hour, &c. The searches may be easiest to do for air travel, but the same thing could be done nearly as easily for any tall building.

A little bit less so though, as planes fall quite easily (and quite quickly) from what would be relatively minor disturbances at those other locations.

It's kind of like saying walking on a wood-bottomed rope bridge is the same as walking on a suspension bridge. Except the rope bridge is a couple miles in the air. Essentially perfectly safe, but if one person cuts the ropes, you all go down. If someone decides to take out a chunk of a road's bridge, there's more danger to the people nearby than to the bridge as a whole; it's much closer to the same risk you run by simply standing near someone else.

Then, there's always those pesky squirrels deciding the rope looks tasty (ie, geese + engine). That's a different problem entirely, though.

Don't give them ideas

While there should certainly be a limit on the extent of searches at airports, the reason these searches have not been found "unreasonable" is likely that you can refuse to be searched. Sure, it means you're going to have to drive to wherever you're going, but you still have the option to refuse.

If, on the other hand, the police pulled you over and forced you to submit to some sort of full-body scan without reasonable suspicion, that would certainly be ruled in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Every time the TSA rambles on about how giving up this little bit of freedom saves your life from terrorism, I wonder why a journalist doesn't hit them up for comment on the (perhaps apocryphal) quote "Those who would give up their liberty for security deserve neither".

Perhaps you should learn the quote first: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Now you just need to prove that the liberties being abrogated are essential and that the security being provided is temporary.

And since the liberty (privacy) that's being abrogated here isn't even mentioned in the Constitution --- and reasonable, experienced Constitutional Law scholars can argue that we aren't guaranteed it --- that's a tough row to hoe.

If it "isn't even mentioned in the Constitution," (and it's not), then it's protected. The U.S. Constitution enumerates the powers of the U.S. Government. A right does not have to be mentioned in the constitution to be a constitutionally protected right by virtue of a lack of authorization for the government to take it away.

From everything I've read about the "Right To Privacy", starting with Alderman and Kennedy's book in '96 (which got me to start paying attention to what SCOTUS and SCOTUS nominees were saying about privacy as an actual right implied by the 4th amendment), it is very much up for grabs as to whether we have a Constitutionally inviolable right to privacy.

I hope we do! But an argument backstopped on the notion that we do doesn't seem very strong.

There are those — including some of the authors of the constitution you're talking about — who believe that rights do not come from written constitutions or governments, but rather that it is to defend the rights that we naturally possess that governments are erected by the peoples of the earth, with written constitutions or without them.

Perhaps this is a naïve view of governments and of rights. But it is this view upon which everything you are discussing is contingent. The alternative would seem to be that might makes right.

Rights are not absolute out in the real world. There are always tradeoffs, especially when various rights come into conflict with one another. The second amendment clearly states that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Does that mean that it is unconstitutional for me to be prevented from bringing an Uzi onto an airplane? The various political and judicial processes that have been established are how we balance these various rights to achieve some condition that most of us are satisfied with. Rights may not come from written constitutions or governments, but those creations are what we use to negotiate amongst ourselves when various rights appear to be in conflict.

I hoped you've satiated your pedantry for today, but the quote exists in several re-quoted forms. Jefferson "mis-quoted" Franklin. Everyone mis-quotes Jefferson.

> I hoped you've satiated your pedantry for today

Not quite :)

While many attribute the mis-quote to Jefferson, there is no written record of him making such a statement. In fact, there is actually no direct record of this coming from Franklin either. The earliest references were in an anonymously published book that referenced a letter from the Pennsylvania Assembly to their Governor from 1755 (when later re-published in Philedelphia it was Franklin who printed it...) At that time Franklin was a member of the Assembly and the quote does sound like his sort of wit, but the full quote seems useful and nuanced enough that we should remember it even if it happened to come from some other member of the Assembly that no one happened to remember.

I've always found that Franklin quote to be a little misleading. The mere act of being a member of a tribe, much less a nation, involves giving up some liberty for security: you're no longer allowed to punch your neighbors in the face for no reason, but now you have some extra spears on your side when some fellow from the next tribe over tries to steal your horse. (Or rather, if you punch a neighbor, you have to deal with whatever consequences the tribe tries to apply to you.)

Join a tribe: can't stab your neighbors anymore. Join a nation: not allowed to bomb buildings 500 miles from your home anymore. I'm all in favor of finding the right balance between liberty and security (usually more towards the liberty side), but the idea that you can get security without giving up liberty just doesn't work.

If there any substance -- for example, a deodorant or lotion with a specific ingredient -- which would allow drawing a picture or words on your body for the scan-reviewers to see?

I believe I read somewhere that research into tHz-blocking clothing was done along with the development of these devices. However, I doubt we'll soon see a booming market for metalized underpants in the duty-free zone. I too have thought about sending a harmless message through the scanner, but came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be worth the inevitable harassment.

I'd bet anything with metal would do the trick. So actually, maybe deodorant, as it contains aluminum.

All hope for is that they will design a scanner that scans me and my backpack instantly as I walk through it so I can arrive at the airport 20 minutes before the flight and not to wait in line to take out my laptop and remove my shoes. I can even pay $10 every time I go though such device to get to my plane faster.

And as for some overpaid TSA agent seeing me "naked"? You know, I really don't care.

In the brave new USA, you can tell they are lying when their lips are moving. They can make claims like this, that the machines' scans cannot be stored, with no basis in fact whatsoever and suffering no real consequences for the lying. I wish this were the only recent example of this sort of pathological lying by the government's corporate mercenaries.

they can justify any security measure imaginable.

i wonder if there's a defense to this intrusion and if it would constitute a crime to bear one.

this is where things start to get a little scary.

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