Tag Archives: full body scans

TSA’s Bad Policies Aren’t Going Away

Public outrage at the TSA’s new policies has died down. That’s a real shame. If people stop pressing the issue, full-body scanners and pat-downs aren’t going anywhere. People are still having experiences like this:

I told her I had never undergone this process and was a bit afraid, and she laughed at me and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about.

The woman grabbed my wrist and said she had to look at my plastic watch. I tried to take it off and hand it to her, and she yelled at me not to interfere with her search.

Then, with no explanation, she pulled up my shirt, exposing my stomach and the top of my underwear, and stuck the top half of her fingers inside the waistband of my pants. I yanked my shirt down and told her she was not showing the top of my underwear and my naked stomach to anyone.

She put her hand up in front of me, threatened to call security and have me arrested if I “tried to get away from her again,” and called security for a private screening.

It is well past time to abolish the TSA. The resources it squanders on security theater would be better used on security.

TSA Roundup

The Thanksgiving travel rush is officially underway. Airports are clogged with passengers. Many of them are upset at new TSA screening policies. A new poll finds 60 percent support for full-body scanning, and just under 50 percent support for pat-downs that involve touching breasts, buttocks, and genitals.

If that sounds high, remember that most Americans don’t fly. Jim Harper also points out that the poll’s wording is biased. “Before being asked about strip-search machines, poll-takers hear cognates of “terror” three times, “privacy” once.” Wording like that skews the results in the TSA’s favor.

Unsurprisingly, many TSA employees don’t care for the new pat-down policy either. Near-constant verbal abuse and poor passenger hygiene are among their biggest complaints. There is also the matter of having to “feel inside the flab rolls of obese passengers.”

Assuming that most TSA screeners are not sex perverts, it can’t be much fun spending 8-hour shifts inspecting other peoples’ genitals. However, not all TSA employees are mentally sound. A TSA employee kidnapped a woman from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and assaulted her.

This was the action of a disturbed individual, and probably unrelated to the backlash against the TSA’s new policies. Even so, that means the TSA has done more harm than good; TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist during its entire existence.

One reason is that its screeners are ineffective. Adam Savage from the television show Mythbusters accidentally arrived at airport security with two 12-inch razor blades. The TSA did not find them, despite giving him a full-body scan.

Ars Technica posts a video of Savage telling his story, and points out that ”If the TSA thinks you can hijack a plane with saline solution and nail clippers, Savage’s 12″ razor blades are the equivalent of a nuclear bomb. Since the blades weren’t anywhere near Savage’s privates, they likely would have been missed by the pat-down as well.”

At least one argument against full-body scanners does not hold ground: that the radiation dose from repeated scans can cause cancer and other illnesses. The dose of so small, that the odds of dying from the radiation exposure is roughly the same as dying in a terrorist attack. Those odds are less than 1 in 10,000,000. Passengers are over 20 times more likely to be struck by lightning.

As with any government agency, the TSA is highly politicized. The two companies that make the scanners have ramped up their lobbying efforts in recent years, getting political heavyweights such as Linda Daschle (the lobbyist wife of former Sen. Tom Daschle) and Michael Chertoff to promote the scanners on Capitol Hill.

One privacy concern about full-body scans is that the images could be stored and possibly leaked on the Internet. This has already happened at a courthouse in Florida (you can see 100 of the 35,000 leaked images here). But the TSA says that won’t be a problem with their scanners. Common sense says otherwise.

Their machines are unable to store images, yes. But any enterprising screener can modify them. Or he could even snap a picture of a naked image with his cell phone. Fortunately, a recent story about a Denver TSA screener who was caught masturbating is a hoax. But the very fact that it is plausible should give TSA boosters pause.

In fact, flying at 30,000 feet exposes passengers to “3 mrem of radiation, an amount that is 150 times greater than the scanner gives you before you board the same flight.”

That’s about the strongest argument in favor of the scanners. But it is outweighed by the fact that they induce some people to drive instead of fly. Since driving is more dangerous than flying, the scanners are expected, on net, to kill people.

They are not expected to actually save any lives, as security expert Bruce Schneier makes crystal clear.

It is well past time to abolish the TSA. Let airlines and airports determine their own policies. Let them compete on safety; if people think flying is dangerous, they won’t fly. Airlines have everything to lose. The TSA has no such incentive. If anything, its repeated failures are rewarded with budget increases.

It Gets Worse

Pajamas Media’s Andrew Ian Dodge links to my OpenMarket.org blog post from yesterday and points out that scanners and pat-downs aren’t necessarily an either/or choice. Sometimes it’s both, as he found out the hard way. Read what he went through here.

TSA’s policies are at least as degrading as they are ineffective.

Shouldn’t He Buy Them Dinner First?

TSA chief John Pistole offered to give enhanced pat-downs to senators at a hearing today on TSA’s new screening policies. Over at the AmSpec blog, I break down the cause of the controversy and point out that there’s a lot more to the story than national security.

The curiously-named Rapiscan is one of two companies that makes full-body imaging machines. As former CEI Brookes Fellow Tim Carney reports, Rapiscan’s CEO is an Obama donor who accompanied the President on his recent trip to India.

Rent-seeking being a bipartisan phenomenon, the company also paid President Bush’s former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff, to promote Rapiscan’s full-body scanners.

Air Travel: A Touching Experience

Dave Barry writes about his first encounter with the TSA’s strictly enforced new policy of touching passengers’ genitalia.

I will experience this for myself this holiday season. If the choice is between some bureaucrat either touching my ding-dong or taking a picture of it, I suppose I’ll take the groping. Full-body scans are a more permanent indignity.The TSA claims that it destroys its nude pictures. But that claim is inaccurate. The machines automatically save the images.

Or maybe I’ll drive, even though it’s statistically more dangerous.

I hate the holidays.