Monday, January 18, 2016

Double-speak: When "surrendered" means "stolen"

A friend writes:
I was flying from SBA [Santa Barbara airport] to SFO [San Francisco airport].  I only had carry on since I was just going away for 2 nights to a friend's.  I absentmindedly packed my full size (5.2oz) Tom's toothpaste instead of a smaller tube because I had run out of the small tubes and I didn't think the 3oz liquid rule applied to toothpaste any longer.  
I have TSA pre-check, but - for some reason I haven't quite cleared up - United isn't recognizing me as that so my boarding pass didn't have it noted that way and I had to go through the song and dance of taking my shoes off, and going through the scanner. At SBA they require you to remove your liquids from your suitcase when putting luggage through the x-ray no matter who you are.  As a side note, if I had gone to the ticket counter to insist on Pre-check on my boarding pass (because SBA is so small) the only change would be that I could leave my shoes on and I would go through the old school metal detector.   
After I passed through the full body scanner and was waiting for my luggage and bags to come through they pulled my bag of toiletries aside and said the toothpaste violated the 3 oz rule.  I right away said, "Since when is toothpaste liquid? And, by the way, I've gotten that size tube through in the past."  (I may have fibbed there; not quite sure to be honest.)  They then said I could check my luggage if I like.  At this point who wants to get dressed again to then go downstairs, check in a bag (which is going to add 30 minutes to my trip by waiting for it on a carousel in SFO), then come back up to then just get undressed again and go through security again?  In hindsight I should have said OK, then just went back to my car to put my toothpaste in and still done carry-on.  But, I get so annoyed I can't think straight.  
So, after refusing and saying no, the TSA agent advised that I was surrendering my toothpaste.  That is when I lost my cool.  Hell no! I'm not surrendering anything.  I then accused her of stealing my toothpaste and she said, again: no, she was not; that I was surrendering.  I then decided to school her on the difference of surrendering (doing something voluntarily in my book at that point) vs the TSA taking my toothpaste without me agreeing to it (stealing).  I then grabbed my stuff in a huff and went over to a bench to put everything back on and back together.  Then to the bar to have a stiff drink.  
I just want to pause here and look at a couple things.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Journalism student at UC Irvine gets it right

I love this editorial by Roy Lyle. He asks, " Isn’t the better answer, though, just not to scare so easy?" after exposing TSA's security theater.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Legal child molestation

A father posted a video of his 10-year old daughter getting a TSA enhanced pat-down after they found her smuggling a Capri Sun (Horrors!) through security. Watching this video literally made my stomach turn, and it is an excellent reminder of why my children and I haven't flown since widespread use of the scanners and associated pat-downs.

It is also disturbing to read the defenses of the TSA procedures in this case. For example, one blogger wrote:
Sure, it probably felt awkward to be singled out. And yes, it was inconvenient. But I’m having a hard time understanding how this simple pat-down crossed any lines.
 "Awkward" and "inconvenient" are not nearly strong enough words for how I would feel about be the object of such a pat-down, let alone how a child might feel or a loving parent might feel seeing this happen to their child. I will grant that I am more sensitive than some (many? most?) others; my husband, for example, opts-out and feels akin to "awkward" and "inconvenienced". But, some of the words I would use if this applied to me or my children are: Violated, Molested, Assaulted, etc...

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Blask: Are these TSA claims true?

An airport director has made some surprising claims about naked scanners:

"'It allows TSA to process our passengers faster,' said Airport Director Kip Turner. 'It’s the same kind of equipment you see at most airports now.'

"The body scanner also reduces the number of pat-downs, he said."

On speed, walking through a metal detector is faster than standing still in a scanner for several seconds Additionally, the metal detector only requires that you remove metal objects - not all objects - from your pocket. Are there any studies that compare processing at metal detector-only checkpoints and naked scanner checkpoints?

I wonder if Mr Turner is referring to using the naked scanner in addition to the metal detectors. If 1 passenger  can be scanned while 3 walk through the metal detector, then that would increase processing by 33%. However, adding a second metal detector would increase processing by 100%, so it's not an apples-to-apples comparison to say the scanner is inherently faster. This is all assuming my guess above about scanner inefficiency is correct.

On pat-downs, I  am baffled. Prior to 2008, pat-downs were virtually non-existent. If you triggered the walk-through  metal detector, they used a handheld wand to isolate the problem. In my experience, one was frequently allowed to remove the offending metal and walk through the detector as many times as was necessary to pass. I assume that people with metal implants would get localized pat-downs, but the majority of passengers were sent on their way. Certainly, full-body pat-downs using a pre-custody search method were unheard of.

My understanding of naked scanner use - ignoring opt-out pat-downs, which are presumably still a small minority - is that many scans identify anomalies that require a full or partial pat-down. These anomalies are not resolved by the equivalent of a hand-held wand, and visual inspection followed by re-scanning is against policy.

Now that scanners and pat-downs are policy, are the TSA  patting down more passengers who trigger the metal detector? In other words, is Mr Turner's comment,  again, less to do with the efficiency of the two technologies and more a reflection of new policies? Or is he just wrong that there will be fewer pat-downs?

Monday, December 28, 2015

On the new TSA opt-out rule

There has been regular media coverage of this story about the TSA'S "You can opt-out, except when you can't" rule.  However, it had been uniformly boring and uncritical. It also seems that the lower the TSA  is in existence, the more the public is cowed, so most quotes from travelers and comments on media reports are not critical of this absurdity. What a pleasure to see someone take the TSA to task at the New American!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Masters of arbitrary rules

Just before Christmas travel began, TSA announced yet another "rule" that defies the traditional definition of a rule. Let's review:
When you go to the airport, you may be asked to go through a naked scanner. Unless,
a) There are no scanners installed.
b) The installed scanners are not in use due to maintenance or staffing.
c) You happen to be at the front of the line when the scanner is being used, but a metal detector is available.
d) You have Pre-check. Unless,
d1) You are directed to a scanner anyway.
e) You are randomly selected to participate in Pre-check (but see d1).
f) You opt-out, in which case you will get a physical pat-down.

And now,  the  newest rule:

f1) If you opt-out, you may still be directed to go through the scanner anyway.

Got that?  Here's the TSA's own words:

"'Passengers undergoing screening will still have the option to decline an AIT screening in favor of a physical screening,' agency spokesman Mike England said in a statement. 'However, some passengers will still be required to undergo AIT screenings as warranted by security considerations in order to safeguard transportation security.'"

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Yikes! Qylatron?

Sometimes there is something unassuming in the news that shocks me.

I wonder how many 49ers fans are aware that they may soon be guinea pigs for some invasive screening. I have no idea what this technology is, aside from a brief explanation from USA Today:

Radiation and chemical sensors survey the passers-by for explosives, X-ray machines scan for weapons, and a color-coded light array gently guides users through the process with green, red and purple prompts.
It is supposed to passively search large crowds so that there are minimal bottlenecks (since private companies are quite interested in not irritating their customers). But, will there be some sort of notification in the fine print on tickets?

(I also find it interesting that the article notes that Disneyland Paris tried this technology.)

Friday, October 23, 2015

An Administrative Victory

Eight years after the TSA began installing naked scanners (and five years after wide-spread airport scanning), it has finally been told to comply with the basic administrative procedure of gathering public comment and issue a final rule. It has 30 days to comply (on top of the 4 years spent ignoring the original court order to comply, on top of not doing it at all for the 4 previous years).

I'm a cynic, so, while I appreciate the Competitive Enterprise Institute's standing firm on this, I don't see any significant changes on the horizon due solely to the TSA finally complying. However, this should at least alert some of the public and Congress to the status of TSA as a rogue agency. Even their final rule will have to ignore comments like mine if anything short of removing the scanners occurs.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Double-speak from the TSA

I was so bored by the predictable calls from the Congress to Do Something! that I didn't blog about it here. I didn't expect any elected officials to acknowledge that there might be fundamental issues with a system that peers under passengers' clothing. Sure enough, it is only how a small fraction of the passengers subjected to such incredible invasive procedures are treated that the elected officials think is an issue.

So, we now have a response from the TSA. It is a typical non-response, where they are going to make some superficial changes and promises (always more training!). What is very interesting, though, is that their story is contradicted by an advocacy group:
However, after reading this story and reviewing TSA's comments, NCTE Director of Policy, Harper Jean Tobin, issued a clarifying statement walking back the organization's involvement with TSA. In an email to The Advocate, Tobin said:
"TSA's response completely misses the point. Whatever they call it, a machine flagging someone for questions or pat-downs of intimate body areas just because of their body parts is unacceptable — no matter how politely officers handle it.
While NCTE offers training to government agencies as a matter of course, our training has so far reached a small fraction of TSA staff who don't actually screen people — but most importantly, they haven't retrained the machines. If TSA is going to rely on body scanners at all — and there is plenty of evidence they're not only too invasive but ineffective — they have to be able to tell the difference between a body part and a bomb. Right now they can't, and that needs to change."
Three chears from Harper Jean Tobin for pointing out that these scanners really oughtn't be used on anybody!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

NAS finally tested scanners

According to this USA Today article, the National Academies of Science have finally been asked to evaluate the safety of x-ray backscatter naked scanners. This seems a bit of putting the cart before the horse since the scanners were already used on millions of travelers before being pulled. (And, remember, they were pulled because Rapiscan didn't come up with a software upgrade for "privacy" quickly enough.)

I haven't had a chance this week to look at it more closely, so I am posting it here without further comment. If these machines were truly safe, then that is, of course, a good thing that people were not made ill by government ineptitude in this case.

SPOT Humor

From Reason, a little TSA humor:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

An illustration of how inappropriate airport screening is

Another trans woman recently missed her flight and was put through an embarrassing ordeal at the hands of TSA.

There has been a software upgrade on millimeter wave scanners and removal of x-ray backscatter scanners, which supposedly alleviated privacy concerns. And, yet, the scanner can still tell that a person who is dressed like a woman is not anatomically a woman. Furthermore, such flagging by the scanner leads to a hands-on screening that is so personal, it is unclear to the TSA what the gender of the agent should be.

This is a problem. And not just for trans folks.

We should all be able to have a reasonable expectation of privacy for ourselves and our children when we merely want to travel through a modern, convenient, and affordable mode of transportation.

This means, no machines that can see anatomy (or, euphemistically, "anomalies") under our clothes (which, as I have said many times, we wear in large part to cover said anatomy!).

This means, government employees can not touch our body without a legal search warrant.

(So much for the sensitivity of the New York Times. The headline for their article on this topic is, "T.S.A. Defends Treatment of Transgender Air Traveler." Mouthpiece for the powers-that-be much?)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Passive body scanners

There is a new technology that is not only on the horizon, but already in use, according to this article. It passively scans an area (that is, it does not produce radiation, but only detects it) to identify anomalies under clothing. There is no health concern here, but there is a privacy concern. Do you have an expectation of privacy when you are wearing clothing in a public place? If an anomaly is detected, is that reasonable cause for an invasive physical search?

Saturday, August 29, 2015

An analogy

I like this succinct article comparing the TSA to a hypothetical retail location. It begins:
Imagine a retail store whose sole reason for existence, it seems, is not to make shopping a pleasure or create satisfied customers but to prevent those customers from shoplifting.
As he points out, this is unimaginable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

$160 Million

The TSA finally confessed to how much it spent on both the x-ray and millimeter-wave naked scanners: $160,000,000. Awesome.