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.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A very belated follow-up on Andrea Abbott

My previous post had me searching my own archives to recall what bad publicity occurred before the TSA changed their policies for children. I stumbled across the story of the brave truth-teller, Andrea Abbott. In 2012, she was in fact convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced to probation. Here's an excerpt from the foxnews.com coverage at the time [emphasis mine]:
Abbott and her daughter went through a metal detector and TSA Officer Karen King was sent to conduct a pat-down. King testified that before the pat-down, Abbott yelled in her face that she didn't want anyone "touching her daughter's crotch."
...[The prosecutor] said the officers reminded Abbott several times that she could file a complaint if she had a problem with the security check proceedings.
"You can speak your mind, but you can't do it in an illegal manner," she said. "What the defendant did was a crime."
The case briefly drew national attention as hundreds offered Abbott support and donations amid debate over whether new, intrusive screening methods should be allowed at airports.
"Since 9/11, we're losing a lot of freedom, and we have to draw the line somewhere," Horst [Abbott's pro-bono attorney] said in closing arguments.
The "illegal manner" that Abbott used was apparently using curse words while otherwise remaining amazingly calm in the face of the legalized molestation of her child and attempted sexual assault of her own person. Nullification, people!

TSA policy on children

Someone I trust kindly let me know that it appears that the TSA is no longer putting children through naked scanners, and, furthermore, that parents get whatever screening the children get (that would be: no naked scanners). I decided I should investigate.

Unfortunately, despite my friend's personal experience and stories (like this one) with similar anecdotes, it is not official TSA policy to keep kids out of naked scanners:
If your child is able to remain standing in the required position for 5 seconds, he or she may be screened through the advanced imaging technology. If a child 12 and under goes through the machine and alarms, they have an opportunity to go through again or the TSA officer may use other procedures to resolve the alarm to reduce the need for a pat-down.
You may not be screened by this technology when carrying an infant or child.
(You may recall that they changed policies for the under-12 set 4 years ago due to bad publicity, including a "modified" pat-down and the above-stated ability to go through the scanner a second time.)

It may very well be unofficial policy to put kids through metal detectors with their parents, and - just to keep us on our toes - they won't acknowledge it. But, it may also just be at the discretion of the supervisor(s) at a given airport.

For a large hub, with several security lanes - some with and some without naked scanners - it is probably quite easy to pick and choose who goes where. The randomized PreCheck may also increase odds if airlines can get families onto the list ad hoc. I do wonder what experiences are like at small airports with a single security lane (such as my hometown airport). What have you experienced firsthand while travelling with children?

Friday, July 24, 2015

At what cost?

Take a look at this blog post looking at the economic costs of making publicly-funded airport security effective. An excerpt:
If a 95% failure rate results in some people waiting longer than 20 minutes, then how would an 85% or 75% failure rate affect wait times? In other words, what is the marginal impact in wait times as a result of improving failure rates?

Read more: http://securitydebrief.com/2015/07/21/after-tsa-airport-failures-security-versus-the-economy/#ixzz3gppqwWHE
Of course, this is something that the market can answer if security were left up to those with vested interests: airlines, airport owners*, and passengers.

*Unfortunately, airports tend to be "owned" by municipalities, so this can not be a true market, but - as history has shown - is a vast improvement over federal management of security.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Pointing out the arrogance of the TSA

The TSA has, again and again, not followed the law. The Rutherford Institute is fighting the good fight by using the legal system to try to hold the TSA accountable. Since they collected public comments 2 years ago, the TSA has not issued final rules regarding the naked scanners. This lawsuit is another one in the serious to enforce the existing impotent law.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The next generation scanner

Good news! The next generation full-body scanner, now in use in prisons, does away with privacy concerns because, "There are no soft tissue images created by the SecurPASS System eliminating privacy concerns."

SecurPASS image from Mikron
Digital's website
The operator can't see genitalia, breasts, and other private areas, because the machine looks right through the skin. Like an x-ray.

No privacy concerns there. Feel free to not only virtually undress me, but look what's under my skin.

And, of course, it's safe. Trust us.
       Q: Is the SecurPASS Scan safe?
       A: Yes. The exposure received is less than the average            amount of background radiation that a person receives              standing in the sun for about 1 hour.
Why would you even wonder if wardens (and future TSA administrators?) don't have each prisoner's (passenger's?) best interest at heart? We can't just have scientists and doctors given unfettered access to such an important piece of national security equipment!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

And here's the band-aid

The string of negative publicity following the IG report of the TSA's 95% failure rate at detecting bombs, combined with a Congressional hearing on other TSA ineffectiveness, was so thrilling to see! With editorials across the country calling for abolishing the TSA or at least a top-to-bottom revamp of the TSA, we instead get: a bipartisan bill insisting that the TSA maintain its equipment better (Yeah. That'll work.)

Rice’s legislation, the Keeping Our Travelers Safe and Secure Act (HR 2770), would require the TSA administrator to develop and implement a preventive maintenance process for airport screening technology within 180 days. The process must include specific maintenance schedules, guidance for TSA personnel and contractors on how to conduct and document maintenance actions, mechanisms to insure compliance and penalties for noncompliance.

Note how that barely scratches the surface of the IG's concerns:
“Our audits have repeatedly found that human error— often a simple failure to follow protocol—poses significant vulnerabilities,” [DHS inspector general John Roth] said. Further, despite the billions spent on aviation security technology, “our testing of certain systems has revealed no resulting improvement.”
Other areas of concern include how TSA plans for, buys, develops and maintains equipment; potential for misuse of the expedited PreCheck screening system; continued vulnerabilities in baggage screening equipment; unreliability of the behavior detection program; cybersecurity; and more.
Not to mention all those lost badges.

Is it too much to hope that this loser bill will fail and something with real muscle will be proposed instead?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Fresno Bee editorial on the TSA failure

I just love how this story isn't going away! Another editorial in a mainstream newspaper slams the TSA.

Ever optimistic that we'll see some real changes and I can start flying again one day.

Monday, June 8, 2015

What's worse than the TSA?

A good editorial in the Las Vegas Review Journal makes a very good point:

"Close this agency [TSA] down and allow every American airport to retain private security contractors... They certainly can’t perform any worse than the TSA."

Friday, June 5, 2015

TSA failure (and spin in 3...2...1...)

The TSA failed some in-house tests. When a student receives a10% on an exam, it's usually time to drop the class. When the TSA gets a similar score (missing 67 out of 70 bombs), it's "out of context"; an indication of weaknesses to work on; and time for a high-level scapegoat to be fed to the media.

(Melissa Block of NPR interviewed John Pistole, former TSA director, about this. It was completely mundane. My cynical side says she isn't a journalist, but rather just part of the media machine that can get interviews with officials anytime she wants as long as she never really presses then to actually inform taxpayers about what is really going on and how they are culpable.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

TSA in the news again: Sexual Assault in Denver

Two great takes in prominent publications on the recent news of Denver screeners manipulating the naked scanners in order to grope the genitals of attractive men:

Time.com has former TSA screener recommending that
One or two full-body scanners per terminal, through which the occasional passenger could be randomly directed (alongside passengers on watch-lists), would provide that adequate deterrence. The vast majority of the traveling public need not pass through a full-body scanner, and need not be groped at all.
That would be a good start, for sure. But, even better, WashingtonPost.com has an editorial calling for abolition of the TSA.

Friday, January 9, 2015

How many years have you been x-rayed without consent or knowledge?

If you live in New York, you may soon find out. It could be that NYPD has not used van-mounted x-rays to view inside occupied buildings or vehicles, and has not used them near pedestrians. But, they have been stonewalling Pro-Publica for the past three years on even being transparent about their safety procedures. Furthermore, NYPD may have databases of x-ray images of vehicles and buildings (yes, the radiation can penetrate metal and concrete) - and perhaps nude images of people - since they apparently have no privacy protection policies in place. But a judge is requiring NYPD to release documentation regarding how these x-ray vans are used.

(Do you suddenly feel like you have entered a science-fiction novel?)

Furthermore, these vans have been in use by the US military in the countries they occupy (yet more trampling on the natural-born freedoms of foreigners), by US Customs at borders (at least they have a policy in place that requires vehicles are not occupied at the time of the scan), and by other law enforcement agencies at conventions and sporting events;

The most extensive reference to the vans came in a book written by two ABC News reporters who chronicled a year inside the agency's bomb squad.
Describing the security around the 2004 Republican convention in New York, they wrote that every vehicle entering a street in front of the convention hotel was ordered to drive between two white vans, which X-rayed each vehicle for explosives.
Aside from the totally outrageous violations of civil liberties that have been going on right under our noses with almost no public awareness, we could delve (once again) into the issue of whether the government can ever be expected to use technology like this responsibly.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A TSA apologist in Connecticut

Yes, there are still people who publish about how hard it is to be someone on the state's payroll doing things that are otherwise illegal. Jim Cameron wrote an opinion piece in the Easton Courier that actually says we should lay off because TSA agents are only doing their job. Just like British troops in colonial America, Nazis, Soviet Gulag Guards, and Saddam Hussein's henchmen. The whole point is that it is not heroic to take a paycheck to abuse the rights and privacy of innocent civilians. That's why we must make TSA agents think twice about what they're doing.
He then goes on with "evidence" about how the TSA agents keep us safe. The proof is all of the weapons they seize. Nevermind that these weapons trend to be legal and in the possession of non-criminals who usually just forget to remove them from their bags before they get to the airport. So the TSA agents are not protecting anyone; they are just taking property from innocent travelers. (I'm not sure what his point is about the woman who faked a bomb threat...seems neither here nor there for this discussion.)
The last thing I want to take down from this op-ed is this:
Remember the holy triad of service: Fast, good and cheap. You can achieve any two of those, but not all three. Clearly, the top priority is “good” security. So, in this era of sequestration, we’re unlikely to see quality compromised for speed or lower cost.
The TSA is not a business, it is a government bureaucracy (and a bloated one at that). There is no service being provided, no calculation on the trade-offs between profit and loss. It is supremely naive to think that the institution of federal airport security can ever consistently achieve even one part of the service triad.
So far, the evidence is on the side of those who give TSA agents grief: security is not fast, not good, and not cheap.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Futuristic biometrics at several airports

This is the first I have heard of iris scanners being used to get passengers through expedited security, but they (or fingerprint scanners) have already been in use at several airports. My thoughts:
1) This is not a step forward for liberty.
2) Ugh. Public-private partnerships.
3) If you are already flying anyway, and this speeds up you're travel time sufficiently to warrant the cost and intrusion, I can't fault you for using it. Just know that it is not *really* a good thing (see 1 and 2).

There is always a question of whether this would be appropriate if airports and airlines were operating on a completely free market. The key is that in that case, every action and association is voluntary, and competition would be able to assess consumer opinion. My guess is that, in a free market, airlines wouldn't care if you were who you said you were nearly as much as the government does. At least that's the way it used to be, not too long ago.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

TSA stops yet another kid-who-is-not-a-terrorist

Oh brother! Poor kid!
Apparently Schilling’s 12-year-old son who was also travelling with him, forgot to leave his fake grenade at home...the Schilling family was taken into a private room to explain the incident and were allowed to continue their journey after the incident was resolved.