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Comment Period for TSA Proposed Nude Body Scanner Rule Ends; 97% Opposed (tsaoutofourpants.wordpress.com)
60 points by tsaoutourpants 1397 days ago | hide | past | web | 41 comments | favorite

Happy to report this major victory to you guys. The TSA for years has cited badly worded and poorly conducted opinion polls to show that America is ambivalent towards the nude body scanners and pat-downs. This is a clear blow to any argument of a public mandate.

But they aren't going to remove them because wealthy people with connections have a vested interest in selling Rapiscanners to airports.

Thanks for posting the link to their webpage in here Sunday. I don't want to miss any chance to fling poo at the TSA.

edit: FYI, My comment hasn't appeared yet. When I submitted it, the form had a notice that comments were subject to moderation and that it may take (a few days?).

A "badly worded and poorly conducted opinion poll" is surely more scientific than a call-in survey triggered by outraged groups.

Whatever the rationale for body scanners they aren't an effective means to detect explosives for the simple reason that they don't see inside the body. There are already plenty of cases, in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan to name two, of bombers hiding explosives in their anal canal.

The headline seems to be misleading: it's 97% of the last 100 comments.

Why are we outraged about the body scanners, again? They don't show the TSA agents any pictures of you, just "yes" or "no". They don't delay lines anymore, either, you step in, the thing spins around, you step out, and in like 2 seconds, you get the "yes" or "no".

(There were reasonable complaints about backscatter x-ray machines, but those are gone now and only millimeter-wave units are in airports. So there's no nudity and no ionizing radiation anymore.)

I dunno, I'm just not outraged. The machines seem pretty nice, to be perfectly honest.

My opinions:

1. You can't trust them to not save the images and use or accidentally leak the images later, some scanners in courthouses were found to be saving images.

2. It's not reasonable to require knowledge of everything one carries on one's person.

3. Experts seem to think they (scanners) are easily defeatable, in which case metal detectors and chemical sniffers are equally capable.

4. The owners of the scanning company are involved with Homeland Security so we are basically rewarding someone for having a gigantic conflict of interest.

Regarding convenience, just travel internationally and you will see just how "convenient" and "enjoyable" the USA is to get in and out compared to other countries.

As for the machines and process themselves, there are plenty other complains that are far more important than speed, convenience or how much the UI shows. Sadly, usually and kind of ironically the only TSA agent that treats me as anything else than a piece of meat is the guy doing a pat-down, and that guy has me literally by the balls.

I travel internationally and do not notice a stark difference between the security checkpoint procedures in the USA and in other countries. The only difference I can recall is having to stop for a few seconds in the millimeter scanner instead of just walking through a traditional gate, but this is hardly a major difference. Can you mention anything else?

I mainly use Narita these days. It doesn't have any scanners at all except for metal detectors (or didn't; I haven't flown for a couple of years). Security checkpoints are very quick and efficient. The staff seem very competent and quick. Lines are usually short, but even when they're long, things move along very quickly, so there's really no sense of security as being anything more than a minor bottleneck. [This is sort of how security was a long time ago in the U.S.]

In the U.S. airports I usually use, O'hare, JFK, and sometimes other airports for stopovers, things are slow and chaotic. The lines are always huge and move slowly, the required scanner procedure very slow, other rules slow things down (everybody's taking off and putting on their shoes and belts, and despite exhortations to do it in advance, this really bogs things down), and the staff seem to often be inattentive and inefficient.

Where exactly the main problem is, I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that I dread going through security in the U.S. these days...

I don't like the scanners. But if you think America is the worst, I wonder if you have traveled through Schiphol. Or Israel. Getting the verbal third degree is also quite invasive and uncomfortable.

Actually I went through Schiphol-USA and back over the weekend. I compared directly between them.

Schiphol->: Got questioned for about 30 seconds before going through the scanners. I have dual nationality so the guy was extra thorough with me. No delays (good), no opt-out possible from millimiter-wave scanner (bad). Scanners just before boarding gate. Get on plane.

->SFO: Half an hour queueing while looped video of a cute puppy about it being bad for everybody if you bring carrots numbed my higher brain functions. Finally in front of customs, guy takes about 4 minutes checking my passport and visa, taking pictures and fingerprints of me. Get on BART.

SFO->: 20 minutes queueing. TSA guy questions me while drawing nonsense on the boarding ticket (psych technique to distract you while they look at your reaction?). TSA guy in the background screams "Keep your belongings in sight! We are not responsible if you lose something, but I don't want to fill the paperwork!" (not paraphrasing, those were the words used). I Opt-out, TSA guys screaming between each other "We have an opt-out! Male!" several times until another agent comes by. Instructed how pat down is done, get groped, get tested for explosive residue from the agent's gloves(do they think that an opt-outer is more likely to be "bad"?). After 30/40 minutes of the TSA dance, get on plane.

->CDG->: Get out of plane. Go through customs (<1 minute queue, <30seconds with officer). Get on plane.

->Schiphol: Get out of plane. Go through automated customs (5 minutes queueing, 30 seconds with the machine). Get on Train.

All and all, although I think the mandatory scanners in Schiphol are unnecessarily invasive, there was nothing shittier in that entire trip than TSA, may be the exclusion of the schizophrenic woman that threw a soda can at me when walking by...

If we're comparing TSA-like procedures between countries, we should:

1. Keep customs out of the picture. At CDG, automated customs sometimes take me less than 20 seconds; at SFO, the visitor queue is sometimes more than 1 hour long. But TSA has nothing to do with this as far as I know.

2. Keep queuing out of the picture. Multiple things can affect queuing times, such as the terminal having not enough parallel security checkpoints and/or a higher traffic, which TSA has again nothing to do with.

The only things we should pay attention to are the quality and duration of the experience, from the moment you start unloading your bag into the plastic bin, to the moment you put it back on your shoulder and walk away.

If I keep myself to that honestly I've never seen much of a difference between countries, and it seems that the only reason why Schiphol was better for you is because they didn't let you opt out of the millimeter scanner at all :/ it would have been a more legitimate comparison if you hadn't opted out of the SFO scan either, in which case I suspect it would have gone the exact same way it did in Schiphol. (Not that it makes it ok to treat badly people who chose to opt out.)

Actually, the biggest single difference in time/convenience IMHO was that there was a single security checkpoint for all flights in SFO in contrast with Schiphol where the security checkpoint was just prior to boarding the plane.

The guys checking my papers, the guy in Schiphol was more thorough, slightly less friendly than the one in SFO. The security guys when going through the scanners were definitely more friendly in Schiphol than SFO.

The TSA does not run the security at SFO. It's contracted out to a private company.

Air/Train/Bus travel in China during the 2008 Olympics wasn't as troublesome or degrading as in the US (but was still more than it ought to be).

I'm deeply skeptical about any procedure involving radiation that isn't a medical necessity, even though I'm sure the vendors have commissioned plenty of studies to support their alleged safety. (It's telling that they don't make pilots and employees go through the scanners daily.) I already get enough naturally-occurring radiation by living high above sea level.

Your objection applied to the backscatter X-ray machines that are no longer in use. It doesn't apply to the millimeter wave machines, which do not expose passengers to any ionizing radiation.

Do you have a link that describes the exact difference? I'm still skeptical/squicked about these machines by reflex, but I'm willing to re-examine the issue.

There are two types of millimeter scanners: passive and active. The first only uses background sources, which is possible since things emit millimeter wavelengths naturally. This can have no additional physical effect on people. However, like passive infrared imaging, these can have poor sensitivity and low contrast. This is why people prefer to have a millimeter light source. (You see the same with infrared imaging. Passive IR uses natural heat sources, while active IR uses an infrared illumination source. For that matter, you see the same with visible light: the flash on a camera is an illumination source.)

Active millimeter scanners use a source of millimeter waves. It's easy to figure out how much energy is in a mm wavelength photon: E = h * c/λ where h is Plack's constant, c is the speed of light, and λ is the wavelength. That's https://www.google.com/search?q=planck's+constant+*+speed+of... = 0.001 eV.

By comparison, a photon needs over 3 eV to break a chemical bond, which requires a wavelength in the ultraviolet range or lower. (This is worked out http://www.kwantlen.ca/science/physics/faculty/mcoombes/P122... ). There's not enough energy in a mm wavelength photon to cause a direct chemical change.

I say "direct" because there are indirect possibilities that aren't relevant to this discussion. For example, you could use infrared radiation to heat something up and burn it. This happens because the energy in the photon is absorbed by the target, which can't be cooled off fast enough, so it gets hot. Or you could use microwave radiation in a microwave oven to do the same, even though there too the photon alone isn't enough to affect the bonds.

BTW, the term "radiation" is used for regular light, infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves, microwaves, and gamma rays. A camera's flash is, in physics terms, a radiation source. As the wavelengths get smaller (eg, UV light), there is enough energy in a single photon to affect a chemical bond and cause it to split. This is why UV radiation exposure is a possible source for cancer, and why UV-B's shorter wavelengths are more dangerous than UV-A.

At even smaller wavelengths (eg, X-rays), then there's enough energy in a single photon to force an electron off of an atom. The atom then has a positive charge, so it's called an ion. Ionized molecules are very reactive, and more likely to lead to chemical damage. Radiation with this level of energy is called "ionizing radiation."

The confusing part is that people commonly use the term "radiation" to mean specifically "ionizing radiation", even though it can apply to things like a heat source. (Ie, the home radiator is an IR radiation source.)

Wikipedia's a good start:



Basically, millimeter wave radiation is ~6 orders of magnitude less energetic than x-rays and is non-ionizing (that is, it doesn't have the energy to knock electrons out of atoms). Ionizing radiation is the nasty stuff, and is what causes DNA damage - non-ionizing is generally safe, and includes things like light and radio waves.

I'll read up on the subject. Thanks for sharing!

The radiation frequency is different.

As far as I'm concerned, all of this airport security--the cameras, the questions, the screenings, the searches--is just one more way of reducing your liberty and reminding you that they can fuck with you anytime they want. Because that's the way Americans are now. They're willing to trade away a little of their freedom in exchange for the feeling---the illusion---of security.

-- George Carlin (who said that before the TSA, before watchlists and no-fly lists)

By the way, are the ports still wide open? They sure were for years after 9/11, and I guess that nobody smuggled in a container of nukes was mostly because nobody cared to do that. Kinda like why the big guy in the supermarket queue doesn't just start bashing everyone to death with the cash register, even though they could.

Human decency prevents terrorism for the most part, not security. The actual good you could do with the TSA budget, bleh. New scanners just make that worse. So now the rapist is using your money to buy condoms. I admit that is better than non-protected rape. But other than that...

Your point is valid. I was told by a high school admissions counselor, back when such topics were interesting enough to consider counter-terrorism and terrorism research interesting (thank God I saw the light and chose different interests over time) that the graduate of my high school who went to one of the most prestigious schools in that field (St. Andrews in Scotland, if you can believe; lots of weirdos in the CT scene graduated from there because professors are field policy guys with more war stories and connections than common sense) had interesting experiences.

He ended up doing CT for the state of Illinois. His greatest concern, as told to me, was water systems. There is terribly security at water reservoirs and water utility systems, worse than nuclear powerplants and other sensitive infrastructure. The simulations they did with predicting terrorists poisoning water supplies made him lose sleep, regularly, and he was one guy in one of fifty states who was paid to focus on such things, because he, not others felt it was a priority.

At the end of the day physical and digital security are similar: no network can be 100% secure and everything is mitigation, so is living in the real world. Terrorism can be stopped and not mitigated. People who believe the opposite are the assholes who sold out and are selling out what little is left.

> I guess that nobody smuggled in a container of nukes was mostly because nobody cared to do that. Kinda like why the big guy in the supermarket queue doesn't just start bashing everyone to death with the cash register, even though they could.

Human decency only goes so far. A non-trivial portion of the population are fucks. But in civilized society, even the fucks know that they can't take on the whole crowd, and they know that justice will be swift, which is why they stay in line. But the promise of swift justice does not exist everywhere, and "human decency" only does so much. When I lived in Bangladesh, we lived in a walled compound (iron gate, high concrete walls with broken glass embedded on top), in a nice neighborhood in the capital city of Dhaka. One night we had an entire bus full of thieves show up at the gate demanding to be let in. It took the police almost an hour to show up, during which time the thieves threatened to run the bus through the gate.

The difference between the U.S. and Bangladesh is not that the former does not have indecent people. It's that in the former, such brazen lawlessness would have been met by a SWAT team, while in the latter a few cops showed up when they felt like it.

Also, ask Israel how well the whole "human decency" thing is going for them.

One night we had an entire bus full of thieves show up at the gate demanding to be let in. It took the police almost an hour to show up, during which time the thieves threatened to run the bus through the gate.

One night, at Orwell camp, some bankers lost some bottle caps up their asses. They said they needed 700 new bottle caps or they would die, though that number was "not based on a particular data point", just really a big number, because they like bottlecaps. It then turned out they wan^H^H^Hneeded more, so they got more. Or hey, the time the magician came along, and turned a huge surplus into a crippling deficit.. you should have seen their faces, joy and awe everywhere. He also showed them a magic stone which kept them from being raped by Saddam Hussein that night. Great guy, great with kids.

You were saying? Sorry I lost track there, it was a really fun camp. I wish we could go there again some day, but I guess for that to happen we'd have to at least step out for a minute first.

Also, ask Israel how well the whole "human decency" thing is going for them.

The state, or some of the people in it? http://www.israelovesiran.com/ Why don't you ask illegal colonists how being jerky pants makes it harder for the awesome Israelis than it would be already?

I don't deny you have a point that the crowd keeps bad apples in check. I even agree with the monopoly on physical power. But this ran out of any resemblance to what it should be a long time ago. We (I say "we", because to me it goes without saying that anyone blinded by privilege is temporarily not of age of consent) give up our power and voice, it gets centralized, and used for the thieves you mentioned.

What little security we have becomes more and more "what is necessary to keep the bigger racket running". It's not that we're not steeped in crime, it's just that those criminals don't like challengers. That it's not as bad as it could is because cops and soldiers are people, too, quite a lot of them very decent and brave ones, and because they sometimes get put in check by the populace.

p.s. I voted you back up because I think you're free to disagree, especially the polite way you did (wtf people, really? cut it out!).

> You were saying?

My point is that talking about how human decency is what keeps people from committing violent, anti-social acts ignores the plain evidence that exists in the world around us, in places like Bangladesh where people aren't fortunate enough to have the kind of policing we take for granted in the western world. Human decency helps, without it society would be ungovernable, but it's police with guns and the threat of justice that keeps the bad apples from ruining the harvest.

> it's police with guns and the threat of justice that keeps the bad apples from ruining the harvest.

Did you really not get what I said about the banking bailout, or did you ignore it with a straight face? Those cops you mention are also spraying pepper spray at people just for speaking the fuck up... !

We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. -- Aesop

So did you miss it, do you have Stockholm Syndrome, or are you blinded by privilege? Is there another option I missed?

Not to speak out of turn here but my read is that Rayiner seems capable of holding two thoughts in his head at the same time: that robust policing is important and necessary, and that like most things it can be abused.

It's you I'm having trouble understanding in this thread. What point are you trying to make? Could you try distilling it into a sentence or two, instead of writing allegories about "Orwell Camp"?

Because we'd like to meet our family directly at the gate?

I like your argument but meeting family at the gate was one of my favorite things as a child. And it won't be enough unless I can arbitrarily check through security to meet my family.

That has nothing to do with the scanners and everything to do with requiring a boarding pass.

The TSA does a lot wrong, but just because the TSA does it doesn't mean it's wrong.

True, my response was a bit muddled by replying, maybe, too broadly to the question about what we're upset about. I changed the subject and I'm sorry to have made that mistake.

Assuming that everything the TSA does is wrong seems to be a much more useful rule of thumb than its reverse.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I believe the machines do take nude pictures but only show the analyzed image to the operator. Additionally, it's a question whether the machines make sense in regards to a cost-benefit analysis. Finally, privacy is still important and we shouldn't use tactics that are unnecessary. Funneling some percentage of users through the machines while allowing most to pass through metal detectors may be an effective strategy that doesn't involve analyzing nude photographs of every passenger.

That's a recent change that occurred only after many demonstrated cases of abuse by TSA staff, and lots of whining about it.

I object to spending large quantities of my tax money on useless things.

One hypothesized mechanism for how cells detect damaged sections of DNA involves variations in how currents flow along the DNA. Conceivably, non-ionizing radiation could cause current flow that could interfere with this mechanism.

I believe this is currently (no pun intended!) speculative, but until we know a lot more I'd prefer to be cautious.

It's more invasive than necessary and doesn't work any better than metal detectors. Why should the default position be "they're not that bad"? Any search at all I'm not thrilled with and the metal detector is about the extent of what I'm willing to permit as 'reasonable' without suspicion and without a warrant.

There are so many potential jokes about the 3%, I can't even think where to start

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