Friday, February 15, 2019

Scanner Technology Update

According to this article from December,  2018, Denver now has new naked scanners. The upgrade is that it's faster (and possible has fewer false positives):

"The new machines can transmit and receive information almost instantly, because they’re multistatic, rather than multi-monostatic systems, Rappaport said. So, people only need to stay still for one second, not three."

At that time, Denver airport had the new machine, but the are plans to continue rolling them out. TSA continues to find ways to spend money!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Passive Scanning Takes Another Step Forward

This very short article was the most informative so far on the March towards passive scanning (that already started in NY and LA train stations). The TSA is expanding its testing. The scanner is made by Thruvision:

"[Thruvision's Kevin] Gramer said, the passive terahertz technology reads the energy emitted by a person, similar to thermal imaging used in night-vision goggles.

"'It’s 100% passive. There is no radiation coming out of our device.'"

This seems like an improvement on the privacy front, but it really depends on how the technology is used. I have more to say on this, but I'll save it for another time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Naked scanners confirmed in LA train station

I have been following the testing of new technology in train stations over the past year or so. It has been hard to find information on exactly what technology has been used. This NPR report has bad news for those of us who value liberty: portable naked scanners are now being used on subway commuters.

"As travelers approached the large black box on wheels, known as a portable millimeter wave scanner, they appeared on its screen as energy waves."

Millimeter wave scanning is the same technology being used in airports. The machine is looking through your clothes -- and, quite probably, your skin -- in real time. The computer software no longer shows the offensive nude image of a passenger, but marks the locations of suspicious items under clothes.  This could be a prosthetic, an abnormal body part, a personal hygiene product, a legal weapon, or, in very rare cases, an illegal weapon being carried with an intent to harm. (NB: It will not catch a strategically placed weapon or explosive.)

What happens when an abnormality is found? Will you be subject to a very personal groping on your way to work?

Listen to the whole story:

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

TSA will justify any illegal activity...

... as long as they are the ones perpetrating it.

"An investigation revealed over the weekend that the American Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is secretly monitoring and tracking hundreds of American citizens. They’re not on any kind of watchlist — the TSA just deems their flight patterns worthy of suspicion."

Read the rest.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

NY Times: Arrive early and smile (and don't look behind that curtain!)

Another travel season, another advice column on how to try to minimize stress-while-flying. I'm not at all surprised to see a piece in a prominent publication acknowledge that security add to the stress, and you make the best of it by being extra cooperative. Specifically, arrive early and be polite.
It's like the traveling public is the codependent partner to an abusive spouse.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Throwback: The story behind Thousands Standing Around

I recently came across this old story about the heroic TSA agent (now ex-TSA agent) who was behind the Thousands Standing Around whistleblowing blog. It's a good read, and quite revealing. 

Arbitrary power and identity politics don't mix

The LGBT community periodically pushes back against airport security, and for good reason. As the writer of this article in Slate, who describes herself as "butch", says:
There’s little rhyme or reason to when people mistake me for male, and sometimes it happens when I least expect it. It rarely bothers me, but when someone in a position of power over you can’t interpret who—or what—you are, it can have negative repercussions.
The fact that people get flagged for what's under their clothes is proof that naked scanners are a gross invasion of everyone's privacy.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Does the TSA profile? Does it matter?

A recent Cosmopolitan article looks at the possibility of racial profiling by TSA:

"Between May 13, 2015 and March 13, 2017, 98 black women filed hair-search complaints with the TSA, according to the records from the Multicultural Branch. That number is likely a small fraction of the women who felt they were inappropriately searched, as my FOIA request for complaints filed regarding specific airports in several cities uncovered an additional 85 complaints, and of course many women may not know they can file a complaint at all. While the TSA states on its website that searches are not conducted with regard to race, these complaints from black women across the country raise serious questions about whether that's true."

Regardless of whether this is due to racial profiling, we have fundamental rights violations occurring at airports everyday. It isn't really surprising that minority groups feel singled out, when we give state employees so much power.

It's not like it would be okay for black women to have their hair searched so long as white women had their hair searched in proportional numbers. Or that it would be okay for women to have their hair searched so long as men also had their hair searched an equal number of times. The violation of another person's rights does not make my own rights violation less, well, violating!

How about no hair searches by a government official unless a warrant is signed by a judge using the traditional American standards for search warrants. In case your civics lesson is fuzzy:

"A judge issues a search warrant to authorize law enforcement officers to search a particular location and seize specific items. To obtain a search warrant, police must show probable cause that a crime was committed and that items connected to the crime are likely to be found in the place specified by the warrant."

The entire TSA process is a rights violation. Fighting between protected classes about who is more oppressed is taking our eye off the common oppressor.

Friday, March 2, 2018

"I Am A Liberal"

As recently as January, Cato published a warning about the use of facial recognition by law enforcement in the U.S.. Add I reported last week, not only is DHS interested in facial recognition technology, they are running trials of it. The Cato column lays out why this is an illiberal, anti-freedom, anti-American idea:
In the not too distant future, our faces will be our “papers.” Police officers won’t need to talk to us, let alone examine ID documents, in order to identify us. Those who don’t appear in a facial recognition network or take steps to avoid facial scan detection will be the subject of extra scrutiny. Unless lawmakers take steps to ensure that only wanted suspects and those with a history of violent crime are included in law enforcement facial recognition networks those who wish to avoid being identified via facial scans will have to take steps that come at high social and economic cost.
England got rid of it's national ID card when one man spoke up and took action,  stating, "I am a liberal, and I am against this sort of thing. "

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Passive naked scanning at Penn Station

Passengers at Penn Station are being unwittingly strip-searched. Although software modifications have been applied to mask the privacy invasion, it is nonetheless a privacy invasion to have a machine see through your clothes!

TSA is running a trial of these scanners, stepping individuals as they go up and down an escalator. No warrant or consent necessary!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Big brother implements facial recognition at LAX

We knew it was a matter of time:
The [facial recognition] works to automate ID and boarding pass verification, allowing international fliers to use a biometric recognition system to verify their identity. Their photo is taken and matched against their passport photo, and the system automatically matches the passenger’s name on their boarding pass and passport.
Not to worry, though. They've improved the naked scanners so that you don't have to put your hands in the air (like a criminal). Big brother is kind and loving (and all-seeing).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Anti-Freedom, pro-Big Government Republicans

Trumps budget requests "only" $75 million for TSA technology (TSA wanted $150M), and some so-called conservatives are upset.

"[Rep Michael] McCaul’s [R-Texas] views were echoed by Reps John Katko, R-N.Y., Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Mike Gallagher, R-Wis. Gallagher has advocated for legislation that increases greater information sharing between federal agencies and the Department of Defense, including biometric data of Islamic extremists returning home from the battlefield."

In general, Republican congressmen are not our friends. They'd rather see bigger government than individual freedom.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"Shut down the TSA"

I really didn't expect much when I clicked on this article from An op-ed that calls for ending the TSA (that's not by James Bovard, either)! How about that?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Vance on Freeing the Skies

This is an article buy Laurence Vance from earlier this year on how air travel is controlled, and why it should be freed.

"According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), U.S. airlines and foreign airlines serving the United States carry about 900 million passengers per year systemwide on more than 9 million flights (domestic and international). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projects that the total number of enplanements will grow to 1.2 billion by 2036. More than 400,000 Americans work in the airline industry. There are more than 5,100 public-use airports in the United States. The busiest airport in the United States (in terms of passenger count) — Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson — has more than 2,700 flights arrive and depart each day. More and more Americans are leaving the ranks of those who have never flown. And that is a good thing, since, on the basis of statistics of deaths per million miles traveled, it is much, much safer to fly than to drive a car or ride a motorcycle.

"But in conjunction with the increasing number of airline flights and airline passengers and the decreasing number of crashes and fatalities associated with airline travel, airports remain under government control. Government at some level controls not only the security at airports, but the airports themselves."

Read the rest.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Congressional Fear

I recently took my children to Washington, D.C. to see some sights and visit old friends. Since I won't consent to a naked scan or physical body search, we took a cross-country train ride. Among our planned activities were tours of the White House and Capitol, arranged through my congressman's office. My daughter and I were especially looking forward to seeing "where the people argue" (her words; I told her it would be more like boring speeches and procedures than arguing).

As we stood in line for the White House security, I noticed an upcoming checkpoint area where I couldn't see what the procedure was. I had a moment of concern as the thought crossed my mind that there might be a body scanner. As I turned the corner, my concerns drained away: No scanner! Security was tight (and the line was long), but the Secret Service Agents were very friendly and the mood was relaxed. We enjoyed our self-guided tour, stopped off for some hot cocoa and hot coffee, and grabbed an Uber to the Capitol.

Once through the standard security at the Capitol (metal detectors and bag scanners), we met some staffers in Devin Nunes' office. An intern, named Chris, was our tour guide and took us on an in-depth and interesting tour. After visiting all the other areas of the Capitol, we handed over our phones (thanks to C-Span) and we proceeded to the House Gallery. Following Chris, we wound our way around. We turned a corner and Chris said, "It's time to take everything out of our pockets." I started to rummage, but noticed: a Millimeter Body Scanner.

I hesitated for a moment. I thought about the 4-day train ride we had just completed for the express purpose of protecting our dignity. And here I was, only a couple of yards away from the device I spend so much time, energy, and money avoiding. The moment passed, and the calm and clarity of what must happen next came over me. I bent over next to my daughter and said, "I'm really sorry, but we're not going to go see the people argue. This machine here is one of the ones that they have at the airport that I've told you about. Do you understand?"

To say the least, she was mad (at me) and very disappointed. I am thankful and proud that she behaved relatively well given that she's only eight and we had been talking about and planning for this visit to the gallery for weeks.

I, too, was very disappointed. I still am, and, upon further reflection, I am also very disheartened. (More on that later.)

Next, I turned to Chris and said, calmly, "Chris, we're not going to do this." I'm sure he was taken by complete surprise. He asked if I would prefer a pat-down, and I, of course, declined. He began to put his belt back on, etc ... when the security guard told him to step forward into the scanner. Chris said we had changed our mind. I let Chris do all the talking, and he seemed prepared to do so as our tour guide.

Can you guess what came next? The security guard said we could not leave the area without getting scanned. He wasn't wearing a blue shirt, but he sure acted like a caricature of a TSA worker. Chris responded with what seemed like disbelief to me. He said, "We're not going in. Can't we just turn around and go back the way we came?"

At this point, I was feeling quite anxious. What was happening was precisely the reason that I don't fly. Friends have told me that my chance of getting scanned or patted down is very slim and they can't understand why I won't even try. This was why. I was being told that I was not allowed to change my mind. The only choices now were to be virtually disrobed or to be physically felt-up. And this would happen to my children, too. The week before, our (female) pediatric nurse had been very deliberate in giving my daughter as much privacy as possible during her annual physical exam. We tell our children at these Dr. visits that not just anybody can look at, let alone touch, their private parts. I do not believe that the government employee with a power-trip qualifies.

My adrenaline was pumping as I prepared to stand my ground. Scenarios started to flash through my mind's eye. What was I prepared to do? I didn't really come to any conclusion, but I was readying myself for a difficult time.

I noticed that a police officer-looking individual appeared. Both he and the security guards were too far away for me to read their badges. I purposefully did not move an inch closer to the checkpoint, so I can only make a guess that the "officer" was from a different agency than the "guard." In any case, he clearly outranked the power-tripping guard. Chris repeated his request to go back without being scanned. The officer listened, then gave us instructions to turn around and go back the way we came. My heartrate immediately returned to normal.

I am now convinced that naked scanners are here to stay. If politicians are using them for their own security, they have no sympathy for the cause of freedom. This illustrates to me, more clearly than ever before, the disdain that elected officials have for the public. What do they care if our dignity is stripped in airports when they insist on stripping it in what is supposed to be their public meetings?

Going to the gallery while Congress was in session was going to be such a terrific hands-on civics lesson for my 2nd grader. Instead, we both got a completely different kind of civics lesson. 

P. S. I would not be surprised if the officer's cool head prevailed in part due to my demographic (white mother with 2 small children). I would guess that - given the recent shootings and the fear of terrorism - a white or Middle-Eastern man travelling alone would have been treated with more suspicion.

P. P. S. On what I ought to have done if they did not let us turn back: I think I should have clearly stated that I did not consent to the search. For the sake of my kids still having a mom around for the rest of the day, I should have refused the scanner and proceeded with the pat-down under protest. I would have tried my utmost to keep the kids out of the screening, but allowed the scanner if pressed, as it would be less traumatic for them. Regardless, thinking through this all makes my stomach turn.

I meant to post this link long ago. These scanners were moved to the House Gallery less than 2 months before our visit.