Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scientific proof: security theater and dangerous lies

The forthcoming paper by UCSF researchers, Leon Kaufman and Joseph Carlson, got some attention from the right-wing media because it showed that the TSA scanners are not effective. But the findings of this paper are much more significant. It illustrates the shockingly opaque scientific review of these machines. Despite having access to only sparse information, these scientists have shown that the claim that the backscatter machines "do not penetrate the skin" is patently false. The full text of their research is already publicly available at Springer, but, because I think this is so important, I have highlighted some key points below.

Foiling backscatter scanners

The UCSF scientists performed some theoretical calculations in order to assess the capabilities of x-ray backscatter scanners that are in use at a growing number of airports. There are two types of scanners used: the (more abundant) x-ray backscatter and the millimeter wave scanners. This paper exclusively evaluated the x-ray scanners, not the millimeter wave scanners. They relied on information available at the manufacturers' websites to compile specs for their computations. There are two slightly different x-ray backscatter technologies being used such that the energy of the x-ray beams vary. For that reason, all of the calculations performed were repeated at the two different energies used, and the authors refer to them as simply "high" and "low" in their graphs and images. (Most of the images in this blog post are linked from the authors' paper.)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Just in time for the holidays

A quick web search turns up news that scanners are now in Ontario (California, not Canada), Chicago-Midway, and Houston-Hobby. Perhaps now would be a good time to watch this video (and at least laugh at the encroaching tyranny):

H/T Glen Litsinger for the video

We Won't Fly Day

We Won't Fly has set Dec 23rd as "We Won't Fly Day." As they say:
Now, every day is We Won’t Fly Day. The government is not listening. The airline and travel industries are our last shots. We must open their hearts and show them our consumer power so they’ll get on our side. Together we have an excellent chance to replace the scanners and gropers with real security. Without the airlines on our side, further begging of congress critters is an exercise in futility.
But December 23rd is special. December 23rd is a space for creative conscious-raising on an international stage. Our goal this time is educational meetups at 50 airports in the US, 5 in Canada and 1 in the UK. We’ll support anyone who wants to organize an outreach, no matter where you may be located. Even airports without scanners are critical. Airports of all sizes worldwide are tightly connected. Ultimately, many will face the possibility of being scanned or groped. We need to reach everyone.
I recommend not flying at all in the future and telling the airlines that you would use why. Education is very important here as more people need to be made aware of what the scanners and frisks entail.

Disclaimer: I will be flying on Dec 23rd. It will be my last trip by air until the TSA is disbanded and airlines take back their responsibility to provide their own security.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Explaining the TSA

Chris Waidele explains that the TSA policies are absurd, and, yet, the public continues to accept them as essential. An excerpt:

When forced to confront contradictions, we humans can come up with some of the most creative, roundabout stories to explain them away. So, as you see, all that is needed is a believable conclusion, and our minds do the rest.
This is why we obediently put up with actions that are patently ridiculous, like subjecting ourselves to fondling by the TSA. We accept the conclusion that it is for our own protection and work backward by filling in the justifications.
A more accurate narrative is that any terrorist with the most basic intelligence will know the security procedures and find a way to circumvent or avoid them. More importantly, total security is an illusion: it would require ever-increasing intrusions into our private affairs by people who could become, in real terms, much more of a threat than terrorists.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Roman-style privileged class?

The cynic in me views Clinton's statement over the weekend that TSA policies will be reviewed as yet another step towards a privileged flying class. High-ranking officials of the state do not go through regular airport security. Pilots have been agitating - and it looks like they'll get - a special pass to avoid scanners and frisks. Next up are ambassadors, and then maybe certain federal employees, state legislators, ...

Monday, December 13, 2010

The TSA is already acting illegally

Denis Drew argues that what the TSA is doing can not be reconciled with existing law. An excerpt:
Both same-sex naked viewing and same-sex private part touching conflict with the justification previously cited by courts for okaying so-called administrative (warrant-less) searches: relatively limited invasion of privacy (sobriety checkpoints as far as it's been stretched). 17 out of 17 TSA employees out of the 20 who answered a query from a travel site survey proclaimed their disgust with being forced to perform overly personal pat-downs (at last count drawing 819 mostly disgruntled comments).
He also blogs regularly on the topic of the TSA.

No longer a frequent flyer

Kishin Thadani shares his letter to Continental airlines:

December 11, 2010
RE: Your loyal customer (OnePass member ########) & the T.S.A.
Continental Airlines, Inc.
900 Grand Plaza Drive NHCCR
Houston, TX 77067-4323
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to confide in you about a decision that I have made.  You see, I have decided to stop flying.  My last flight was in August 2010 with Continental Airlines and I do not have any intentions of flying again in the foreseeable future.  In fact, I recently changed my travel plans and I have decided to drive over 1,200 miles to attend my best friend's wedding in Florida rather than to hop on a direct three hour flight.  As I am sure that you are aware, Newark Airport (EWR) is a Continental Airlines hub and you have daily non-stop service to several airports in south Florida.  You may then be curious as to what would compel someone like me to forego the time convenience and cost effectiveness of a Continental Airlines flight and instead make such a person opt for an 18 hour long drive.
Well, allow me to expound on the reasoning behind my decision as well as that of others who share my feelings.
The outstanding reason for my decision can be attributed to the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration, or simply the TSA.  Specifically, it is the TSA's policies, procedures, and practices that are dissuading me from ever wanting to fly again.  Ever since the TSA introduced what they call "Advanced Imaging Technology" x-ray machines (a.k.a. the naked body scanners) in the airports, there has been a rightful outrage over their use and abuse. 

Crossing paths with US Air

I just wanted to post this letter from United US Air (below). It is apparently a response to my third letter, not my most recent letter. However, Ms. Kerman did not address my concerns at all, and seems to be responding to what I wrote in my second letter. Very confusing, isn't it? The delay between letters this time is much longer, so I will wait longer this time to hear their response to my most recent letter.

Oh, and no word from Orbitz, yet.