Saturday, March 12, 2011

Update on EPIC vs DHS

EPIC's case against the TSA scanners on 4th Amendment grounds was heard in a DC court this past week. Coverage is at The Washington Post and Wired. When asked whether strip searches would be legal, the DHS lawyer said yes:

At times the judges also expressed concerns about how far TSA can go. Judge David Tatel wondered whether the impact of body scanners on travelers is so severe that the public should have been able to comment before the scanners went into primary use. Tatel and Judge Karen Henderson questioned whether the TSA would be within its authority to determine one day that the security threat required that all passengers be strip searched.
Brinkmann said TSA could make such a determination without public input, as it did with the body scanners. But she said both are subject to the court's review, and in the case of the strip search, "I think you'd have an overwhelming Fourth Amendment claim."
The lawyer is implying, of course, that there is not an overwhelming 4th Amendment claim in the case of the scanners. Let's hope the judges disagree, but I'm not very optimistic.

The crack team at TSA

A man has been able to twice board a plane without a ticket - which included getting by the gropers in blue without a boarding pass. Most recently, this happened at JFK, but he had previously accomplished this feat at SFO (one of the "opt-out" airports with contractors imitating the gropers in blue).

But, don't worry, the FBI will save us from this menace!

Friday, March 11, 2011

TSA agent accused of aiding smugglers

We all know that what the TSA does is security theater. It is also in the nature of these organizations that corruption is bred on a rich diet of power. This particular TSA agent, at the Buffalo-Niagara Airport, got caught:
Prosecutors say Walker routinely ushered suspected drug traffickers past airport security...
In court documents, federal agents say Walker let one person travel under a false name and helped others bypass normal security measures by escorting them through checkpoints and directing them away from body image scanners and pat-down lines.
Walker also is accused of waiting with suspects, personally handling their baggage and occupying them to avoid scrutiny by other airport security personnel, federal authorities said.
Note that the smugglers were smuggling suspected drug money. Part of our police state mentality is to have complete control over what we are allowed and not allowed to do. You are not allowed to travel with large amounts of cash.

But the question remains. If this one agent got caught, how many more are doing similar - and more dangerous - things with their power?

Boycotting the TSA

I received this in my inbox today from Wyatt Investment Research. I can't find a copy online, so I'll just paste the text here. (The author, Kevin McElroy, previously shared his letter to Sen Patrick Leahy with me.)
Back Home From Canada
Fellow Resource Prospector,
I’m back in Vermont after spending four days in Toronto for a mining conference.
I know I’ve been a bit heavy-handed with the conference information, so today I thought I’d make a left turn into a more personal subject - something I feel very strongly about.
I did encounter some really exciting opportunities at the conference, and I’ll be following up on those opportunities in the following weeks. Click here if you want to read some of the past week’s articles on the mining conference.
So, I spent most of yesterday driving from Toronto, back to Vermont. It’s about an 8-hour drive, including a few quick coffee stops. It’s a somewhat scenic drive that follows the north border of New York and Canada, crossing into Canada and the following the north side of Lake Ontario.
The question is, why drive?
That’s a question my co-workers and friends have asked me, and I’ve given the answer a lot of thought.
I could have flown. My co-worker Tyler Laundon flew out on Sunday morning at 6 am and got into Toronto a little before noon. He also got home before I did, on Wednesday night, as opposed to Thursday afternoon.
But I stopped flying last year, when my pregnant wife and I found out that the United States government would ask us to either go through a backscatter scanner or submit to a pat-down.

Warrantless bag searches in waiting area

TSA has been doing random bag checks (without a warrant of course) at the gate as passengers board the plane for years. Now, there are reports that these checks are occurring in the waiting area as well. The Washington Post questions whether this means we are in - or approaching - a police state.

One point of clarification: DHS already conducts random car searches at road blocks. These "border" inspections occur tens of miles (often over 100 miles) inside our borders. TSA VIPR teams have searched bus passengers, train passengers, and cars. Here's the relevant passage from the WaPo article, in which the reporter appears oblivious to this fact:
Supporters of the TSA's more aggressive screening measures are quick to point out that no one has to fly, and that Amtrak, Greyhound and personal vehicles are still available.
But similar security searches are now being conducted on trains and in other public areas, including random screenings of Metro passengers in Washington, as well as mass-transit riders in New York and Boston.
The TSA has also indicated that it wants to move the perimeter of aviation security screening beyond the airport, to checkpoints on the road, according to Chris Calabrese, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. If these roving searches are tolerated within the terminal and are allowed to jump to the street, there's no telling what might come next. It isn't inconceivable that in the near future, the TSA could set up roadblocks to randomly screen automobiles anywhere it pleases.
And if the TSA is permitted to expand its screening, it could prompt further outcries from the traveling public and more comparisons to a police state, say Calabrese and other privacy advocates.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hassled in Tampa

Eric Johnson sent me the following email:

Hi - I am writing this from the Tampa Airport. Today at 3:30 pm I noticed some people were being directed through the metal detectors and some through millimeter wave. I asked if I could go through the metal detector. The TSA person immediately escalated and read me the "law" about refusing millimeter scanning at the top of his lungs. He then made me stand aside while my laptop, wallet, watch and luggage went to the other side of the belt. I waited 5 minutes and asked when I was going to be searched. They had no answer. Others were going through the metal detector at this time. Finally they took me to the other side and then "informed me" how intimate this search would be. I was then subjected to a very public, and very lengthy feeling over. Clearly this was all to make an example of me to the rest of the public that this is what happens to trouble makers. I'm 48 years old, bald and was wearing a corporate shirt from a trade show here in Tampa. I've been flying all over the world. This is the worst treatment I've ever experienced. It was rude, hostile and completely unwarranted for asking a simple question. I do not trust the millimeter scanners. I'm going to have to think through my need to travel by air if there truly is no option but to subject my body to untested waves or to be publicly humiliated as an American in a public airport. I'm so angry right now I had to find a place to vent. You came up first. I intend to give you money when I get home. Thank you for listenting and trying to protect our constitutional rights.

That Senate vote

I never blogged about the silly vote in the Senate that made "improper" use of TSA scanner images a felony, but I guess I should at least note it here. It was a politically easy vote that accomplished nothing, but it made the politicians feel good about themselves and allows them to say that they "did something." It does not address the unconstitutionality of these scanners and, meanwhile, the Congress continues to fund the expansion of the program.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"This time, we've got it right"

A great write-up at HuffPo of the folly that experts will always protect us. Gayle Green says:
As an all-too-frequent flyer, female, over 65, with a two-decade history of commuting and a cumulative radiation exposure equivalent to some pilots, I'm taking the pat-down, as humiliating and harassing as it is.
Why? She explains:

Since the 1930s, when the International Commission on Radiation Protection began setting guidelines for permissible exposure, it has been lowering the permissible dose -- by a factor of 2 in 1950, then again by a factor of about 3 in 1956. (3) (Permissible dose is set lower as dangers are found to be higher.)
"There is something disturbing about the repeated assurances, 'this time folks, we have got it right,' comments Dr. Morris Greenberg, a senior public official in Britain, "when on each occasion, a previous understatement of hazard is revealed." (4) Meanwhile, each successive report of the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation committee, a committee of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, has acknowledged a greater danger to low-dose radiation. Their most recent report states there is "no evidence of a threshold below which no cellular damage occurs." (5) That is, even the lowest of doses may be dangerous, as Stewart claimed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

TSA brutality

Robin Kassner (who was a featured millionairess on Millionaire Matchmaker) was attacked by the TSA for "raising her voice" and becoming "angry [and] disruptive" while they searched her bags (without a warrant, as usual). She got a concussion, but, better yet, the video is available so you can see the absurd use of force by the goons in blue.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Austin activism goes to the legislature

Texas has proposed legislation along the lines of what New Hampshire is proposing. Rather than holding individual TSO's responsible for sexual assault, it is holding the airports liable for such breaches of human rights. JH Huebert at LRC gives the backstory, which we've been following along here as well. It would be great to see some of this legislation pass and for more states to follow suit.

Of course, as my last post shows, as long as security is in the hands of the federal government, we will not be safe from the abuses. They will just move onto trains, buses, sporting events, concerts, and more.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

And you thought this was limited to airports

Before airport body scanners were on the radar of many freedom-loving Americans, Homeland Security was figuring out the next step for brutal assassination of the Fourth Amendment.
The Homeland Security Department paid contractors millions of dollars to develop and study surveillance systems that could covertly track pedestrians and check under people’s clothing with airport-style body scanners as they enter train stations, bus depots or major events, newly released documents show.
Thanks to the work of EPIC, we now know about these projects. Chertoff's Rapiscan received almost $2 million in 2005 to turn its scanner into one that would work on moving targets: people in a crowd. No consent would be given and people would be irradiated and virtually strip-searched without any knowledge or warrant. Northeastern University received a similar grant to investigate these types of devices around the same time.

The documents EPIC obtained also show that pilot programs for surveillance of all rail passengers were in place (presumably using only standard photography and videos and possibly infrared imaging) in New Jersey and elsewhere. Additionally - of course - the images were saved for analysis.