Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Scientists' letter to John Holdren

Dr. Sedat of UCSF, who co-authored the original letter of concern regarding scanner safety last year, has written an in-depth response to the Department of Health and Human Service's (HHS) superficial response to such concerns. I can't agree with Dr. Sedat and his colleagues' final paragraph, in which they offer alternatives to backscatter scanners that are still violations of our rights, but the rest of the letter is excellent. It is very technical, well-researched, and points out the lack of proper conduct on the part of the feds in assessing the safety of the backscatter scanners.

If you've been following the story, you'll know that Johns Hopkins played a role in evaluating these scanners, but the institution has been vociferous in its insistence that the study did not evaluate the safety of the scanners. Not to be dissuaded, HHS has continued to imply that the Johns Hopkins analysis supports their claim that scanners are safe to use on all people as primary screening at airports. Sedat starts by saying:
There is Still No Rigorous Hard Data For The Safety of X-Ray Airport Passenger Scanners.
...The [Johns Hopkins] document is heavily redacted ... In every case the electric current used which correlates one to one with X-ray dose has been specifically redacted. Thus there is no way to repeat any of these measurements. While the report purports to present the results of objective testing, in fact the JHU APL personnel, who are unnamed anywhere in the document either as experimenters or as authors, were not provided with a machine by Rapiscan. ... There are also [technical] issues ... The data given in the Johns Hopkins report indicate that there must be something wrong.
I've deleted much of the technical points (which are important for context) to make one of Sedat's points clear: This does not in any way, shape, or form follow acceptable standards for scientific research. If the TSA just wanted to bake a birthday cake, it wouldn't be such a big deal. But they are currently shooting ionizing radiation at the general population in airports across the nation without so much as a single peer-reviewed study on the safety of the machines being published. The letter continues:

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Patting down a baby

The baby in this photo appears to be between 1 and 2 years old. Mom obligingly holds the baby in place while two agents in blue molest it. (Link via LewRockwell.com)

Parents ought to take a stand here. I can't blame them entirely when they submit at the gate. This is out of a combination of ignorance and intimidation. I like to think that I would protest if I were in that position, but the consequences of this could be quite severe (including separation from my child, which would be frightening even if for only a few minutes), and it's possible that I would ultimately submit. This is why I am now doing my best to avoid these situations by not allowing my child to fly on commercial airlines in the US.

Incidentally, I am curious whether it is possible to get to Europe (in less than a week and without spending a fortune) and avoid these types of rights infringements. Is crossing the US-Canada border still relatively free? Are scanners and pat-downs absent from Canadian airports? Which European airports are best for avoiding the gestapo?

Texas pat-down bill makes headway

The bill to make TSA pat-downs a type of sexual assault is moving forward. This is a great precedent and I hope it gets the final votes it needs in the Texas House and Senate.

H/T Erik G.