Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Alaska Legislator Refuses TSA Pat Down After Second Indignity

At least there appears to be SOME momentum building again against the TSA policy of digital strip searches or aggressive groping. I have written extensively ("A  Hobson's Holiday Travel Choice: Digital Strip Search or Get Groped") about why I believe these airport body scanners and the subsequent aggressive pat downs for those that choose that "option", are grossly ineffective, intrusive, expensive, and unnecessary.

A few weeks ago, I detailed the the very modest good news that a bill offered by Chuck Schumer and Bill Nelson that passed the US Senate would make the misusing of body scanner images a federal crime punishable by up to a year in prison.

In other words, its aim is to prohibit anyone with access to the scanned body images, whether security personnel or members of the public, from photographing or disseminating those images. Besides a prison term, violators could be fined up to $100,000 per violation.

I also included a USA Today editorial on what they called the "'Inexcusable' delay on TSA body-scanner safety reports". The article notes that "The Transportation Security Administration has told members of Congress that more than 15 million passengers received full-body scans at airports without any malfunctions that put travelers at risk of an excessive radiation dose. Despite the reassurance, however, the TSA has yet to release radiation inspection reports for its X-ray equipment - two months after lawmakers called for them to be made public following USA Today's requests to review the reports.

Fueling concerns about the potential for scanner malfunctions and the TSA's ability to identify problems: TSA and its contractors had failed in the past to detect when some baggage X-ray machines were emitting excessive levels of radiation or had safety features that were missing or disabled. The TSA says that it has made improvements since then and that all of its X-ray scanners - for people and luggage - have passed recent inspections by contractors. The agency in January asked the CDC to repeat its luggage X-ray study "to confirm the progress TSA has made."

And now we have an Alaska legislator saying no to a TSA pat-down  after her prosthetic breast triggered an alarm the first go around, and then did so again the next time too! The Los Angeles Times reported on the hub bub:
When Alaska state Rep. Sharon Cissna passed through airport security a few months ago, the false breast she has worn since her mastectomy set off an alert on the new full-body scanner and triggered what she called a "humiliating" pat-down search. Last week, it happened again. The Anchorage Democrat was leaving Seattle to return to the legislative session in Juneau when her prosthetic breast sent her once again toward the rubber gloves.
"The horror began again," she recalled, except this time, she refused. Cissna caught a small plane to British Columbia and boarded a ferry for a two-day journey back to Juneau. She arrived in the Alaskan capital Thursday to expressions of support from fellow members of the Alaska Legislature, which passed a resolution backing Cissna's stand that declared "no one should have tosacrifice their dignity in order to travel."

TSA officials say there is nothing inherent in a mastectomy that should set off alarms in airport screening devices and that Cissna should theoretically have received the same treatment as millions of other travelers subjected to the new "enhanced" pat-down procedures that took effect at U.S. airports last fall.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it has received more than 1,000 complaints from passengers who feel they have received inappropriate pat-downs under the new screening procedures, which require a thorough search whenever the full-body scanning equipment finds something unusual.

"Many people have felt genuinely traumatized," said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU's speech, privacy and technology program. "This policy puts TSA agents into intimate contact with Americans' bodies in a way that normally only doctors are in a position to do."
I hate to sound like a broken record, and I won't rehash all my arguments against this intrusive process. But, let's be clear, the government has no right to put average citizens through this process that pose NO RISK to anyone, and there is no reason to suspect they do.

To repeat: You will find few credible security experts that will advocate for greater use of these machines. So before embracing this latest "terror fix" we would do well to remember that for every specific tactic we target with a new, expensive, and often burdensome security apparatus, the terrorist's tactics themselves will change. Risks can be reduced for a given target, but not eliminated. If we strip searched every single passenger at every airport in the country, terrorists would target shopping malls, trains or movie theaters instead.

Noted security and privacy expert Bruce Schneier expounds on this "targeting tactics" strategy, calling it ,"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."

He also had this to say about the body scanners: "I'm not impressed with this security trade-off. Yes, backscatter X-ray machines might be able to detect things that conventional screening might miss. But I already think we're spending too much effort screening airplane passengers at the expense of screening luggage and airport employees...to say nothing of the money we should be spending on non-airport security. On the other side, these machines are expensive and the technology is incredibly intrusive. I don't think that people should be subjected to strip searches before they board airplanes."

Before we willfully give up our civil liberties and sign off on wasting HUGE amounts of money on ineffectual security systems, consider this: Your chances of getting hit by lightning in one year is 500,000 to 1 while the odds you'll be killed by a terrorist on a plane if you are a constant flier over 10 years is 10 million to 1.

Add to these points the fact that these naked images of passengers seem to be everywhere, are easily stored and shared, and that big corporations that profit off our fear are lobbying hard for us to invest in these technologies without proving they're worth the money, and it only becomes more apparent we should scrap them.

Fear is not a principle to build a healthy society around, particularly when those very fears are being magnified by those that have ulterior motives (including financial) for doing so. Lines in the sand must be drawn - and digital strip searches are a good place to draw one.  If the admittedly hackneyed term "slippery slope" applies to anything, it applies to these machines and these pat downs.

Bruce Schneier summed up the false dichotomy too often offered the public between security and privacy, when he said, "If you set up the false dichotomy, of course people will choose security over privacy -- especially if you scare them first. But it's still a false dichotomy. There is no security without privacy. And liberty requires both security and privacy. The famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin reads: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." It's also true that those who would give up privacy for security are likely to end up with neither.”

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