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17 November 2010

The Transit Service Authority's Naughty Bits

Bug Girl talks about the new TSA scanners, which take nude pictures of your body using ionizing radiation and store them for an undisclosed amount of time. It's a very good read.

Although sometimes I think he's a little too paranoid, going to tentatively side with Cory Doctorow on this one. (If you haven't read Little Brother, by the way, I highly recommend it.)

To be clear, I agree that the TSA are within their rights to require passengers to submit to these scans if they so choose: I don't think that anyone has classified flying as a universal human right. Although I've been through the machines before, I think that next time I'm going to opt for having my testicles fondled instead. But I'm also disturbed by the fact that in some cases travelers opting out of screenings have not been allowed to simply walk away from their flight, but have instead been threatened with fines or detainment.

I find this whole "illusion of security" that's been shoved down our throats over the last nine years troubling. The restriction on liquid thing really bothers me, because it is so transparently useless. Does anyone think that's anything more than an inconvenience? How could that possibly stop terrorism?

It seems to me that the TSA shouldn't be misleading travelers as to the efficacy, risks, or uses of their scanning devices. I also think that they have a responsibility to the public to be accountable for their decisions, and those decisions should be founded on sound research. The bottom line is that there's no evidence (that I've been able to find) that the scanners are effective in countering terrorism, the TSA has lied repeatedly about whether they store and transmit the scans (hint: they do), and it's always a good idea to minimise one's exposure to ionizing radiation (reports vary with regard to safety).

And hey, what's a little testicular cupping between complete strangers?

Edit: There's a new article up at the Wall Street Journal Online with some bearing on the matter. Here's a snippet:

It's the same kind of trade-off TSA implicitly provided when it ordered us to take off our sneakers (to stop shoe bombs) and to chuck our water bottles (to prevent liquid explosives). Security guru Bruce Schneier, a plaintiff in the scanner suit, calls this "magical thinking . . . Descend on what the terrorists happened to do last time, and we'll all be safe. As if they won't think of something else." Which, of course, they invariably do. Attackers are already starting to smuggle weapons in body cavities, going where even the most adroit body scanners do not tread. No wonder that the Israelis, known for the world's most stringent airport security, have so far passed on the scanners.

Hat tip to Ashlyn Noble for the SkepChick article and Boing Boing for the Wall Street Journal piece.

Edit: Here's another one that is tangentially related:

"As the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiff's blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs' breasts to everyone in the area," the lawsuit said. "As would be expected, plaintiff was extremely embarrassed and humiliated."

The suit said the woman filed an administrative claim against the TSA, but the agency never responded, sparking the lawsuit.


"One male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that 'he would just have to watch the video,'" the suit said.

Tip o' the hat to Shunjie Lau.

Best Edit Ever: According to an article in the UK's Daily Mail, the full body scanners are just as likely to kill you as a terrorist:

Peter Rez, from Arizona State University, said the probability of dying from radiation from a body scanner and that of being killed in a terror attack are both about one in 30 million.

He said: 'The thing that worries me the most, is not what happens if the machine works as advertised, but what happens if it doesn't.[']

A potential malfunction could increase the radiation dose, he said.

Hat tip to Brendan Curran-Johnson, who remarked that it was bizarre that we accept thousands of deaths each year in Canada alone from motor vehicle collisions, while the only acceptable death-rate for air travel is zero.

Another Edit: Back in 2002, Penn Jillette also had something to say on the subject of airport groping:

He reached around while he was behind me and grabbed around my front pocket. I guess he was going for my flashlight, but the area could have loosely been called "crotch." I said, "You have to ask me before you touch me or it's assault."

He said, "Once you cross that line, I can do whatever I want."

Penn, of course, objected. He is an Objectivist, after all.

Again, thanks to B.C.J. for the link.

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