Friday, April 19, 2019

Discrimination Illustrates Security Theater

Last month, ProPublica asked anyone who has had their hair searched by TSA to contact them. The results of that have now been published, confirming that the body scanners find anomalies in certain hairstyles, which happen to also be more prevalent for black women. Not surprisingly, black women repeatedly get singled out for further scrutiny.

A telling quote from a TSA official inadvertently admits that naked scanners are not effective at finding actual terrorists (the purported purpose of TSA) :
"'With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,' said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. 'Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.' [Emphases added]

You got that? The naked scanners - which violate basic rights to personal privacy and bodily integrity, and apparently discriminate against trans-individuals, black women, and (I would surmise) several other groups of marginalized people - can NOT DISTINGUISH between a real threat and something that is NOT a real threat.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Wolves protecting the sheep

This article is not addressing the narrow topic of naked scanners, but is addressing the broader topic of civil liberties abuses at the hands of TSA. Additionally, I was not aware of the principles described (nor have I investigated further to corroborate):

"Many of the “voluntarily surrendered items,” or items taken from checked baggage by airport security are given to the state government. Food, drink and alcohol are thrown away, but items that are prohibited, including household goods and sharp or dangerous objects are surrendered or confiscated. They are stored by the TSA and some state governments sell them off in online auctions to generate revenue."

So, we can see one way that the interests of the state (to project it's citizens' rights) are captured by a federal agency: TSA steals private property from citizens (and in an Orwellian twist, renames it "voluntary"). The state does not intervene on behalf of the citizen, but looks the other way. As a reward, the TSA gives some of the stolen goods to the state.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

James Bovard on the TSA's Watchlist

Of course, it's not a terrorist watchlist. It's aimed at self-respecting travelers, who have no criminal intentions but make the TSA workers feel ashamed. Read James Bovard's take.

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:

<iframe src="https://www.marketplace.org/2018/09/14/tech/after-la-other-major-cities-consider-subway-body-scanners/popout" frameborder="0" width="100%" height="240px"></iframe>

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.