Saturday, July 23, 2011

Don't be so silly! Of course the TSA's warrantless searches don't violate the Constitution!

This is a really bizarre editorial in the Denver Post:
Regular readers know we've been less than thrilled with what we consider to be the Transportation Security Administration's sometimes ham-handed approach to airport screenings. But we've never claimed that even the incidents that aroused our ire violated the Constitution's 4th Amendment ban on "unreasonable searches and seizures."
...The court points out that "screening passengers at an airport is an 'administrative search' because the primary goal . . . is to protect the public from a terrorist attack." That's significant because an administrative search, as the Supreme Court has ruled, "does not require individualized suspicion" and can be justified by the "degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests."
Thankfully, Becky Akers explains what a joke the legal system is with respect to "administrative searches."
You need not be intimately familiar with the era’s history to predict that bureaucratic whim, dictatorship, and injustice quickly dominated aspects of life previously off-limits to government. To quiet rebellious Americans, Franklin Roosevelt signed the Administrative Procedures Act (APA). It prescribed a uniform method by which agencies would legislate — though they designate their laws “regulations” the better to fool us. But consistent or not, tyranny is tyranny.
The APA also provided “relief” for folks whom bureaucratic action “harms.” How? The victim appeals to the agency, which determines the justice of his complaint. I haven’t found statistics on the number of times agencies have ruled against themselves, but I’d bet the farm the figure’s lower than a politician’s morals.

Is the Israeli model so great?

Conservatives who don't like the TSA's current policy, but are still hopelessly bound up in the idea that we need airport security and, furthermore, the answer is profiling, often point to Israel as a model. Here's a sympathizer to the security state's take on traveling in Israel:
All told, it took me more than 90 minutes to get to my gate, although a good portion of that can be attributed to the ticket counter.
This process works well, mainly because Israelis are looking for actual security problems and not simply sampling for problems.  But the application in the US would be controversial on several points.  First, as noted, Israelis have no qualms about profiling as part of this process.  But perhaps more of an issue is the time and effort needed in this process. ...
Nevermind that all of this is still unconstitutional. We are innocent until proven guilty in this country. Detainments must be based on reasonable suspicion. Searches require written warrants signed by a judge detailing the person, time, place, crime, etc... We shouldn't want to turn our country into a police state. And, by the way, the terrorists don't hate us because we're free. Solve the underlying problem and we won't have to worry about bombs on our airplanes.

More humiliation for the sick and disabled

A good point regarding the quote from TSA that there will be "unpredictable" measures including "enhanced tools and technologies" in response to the supposed threat of belly bombs:
The articles don't say it, but we'd suggest that, if you're traveling and you've recently had surgery you'll probably want to get to the airport a bit earlier than expected.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Akers on Rumsfeld and Miyamae

I intentionally did not comment on the propaganda of Rumsfeld getting searched at the airport, but Becky Akers does it justice and also covers Ms. Miyamae's saga.

Like Google+ for rights violations

The Trusted Traveler pilot program is starting:
Passengers can't sign in to the system. Frequent flyers will be invited in. If successful, TSA hopes to expand the program to other airlines and airports. 
More here about why I don't like it.

TSA puts out a press release...

...and everyone bites, so I guess I will, too. Here is CNN displaying the standard regurgitation that I'm seeing from one source to another. The story is that the TSA is rolling out the cartoon-figure software upgrade for their millimeter wave scanners that they've been piloting this year. A number of local papers are doing their own version of the press release where they state whether/when the local airport will get the upgrade (what a coincidence!). A number of articles also just have incorrect information, but here are some interesting ones:
  • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's report is the standard press release, but it is the only one I've seen that says how much this is costing ($2.7 million).
  • Bloomberg's article is also standard fare, but includes the corporatism aspect of this: "L-3 rose 64 cents to $82.17 at 4:01 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. OSI Systems [Rapiscan's parent company] added 11 cents to $43.86 on the Nasdaq Stock Market."
  • Wired, which has been overall an excellent source on all things TSA-scanner-related, doesn't let us down with their more insightful article.
  • Declan McCullough at CNET - a consistent fighter of civil liberties with expertise on technology - also has a great report.
  • Jeanne Sager at The Stir has another angry post (see her on Miyamae and Abbott) in which she calls those of us with scruples: irrational. Her main issue seems to be that we're inconveniencing other sheep travelers.

Life imitates satire

This gives a whole new meaning to those cartoons implying that TSA agents will double as undereducated radiologists soon (And then there's this recent satirical article.):

The security industry does sell X-ray machines, called transmission scanners, that can see inside body cavities and underneath skin. The Cook County sheriff in Illinois introduced such a machine, known as the RadPRO SecurPASS, at its jail in February.
Since then, guards have made some interesting finds, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson said in an interview before today’s report. In one case, an inmate was found to have swallowed 10 pouches of heroin. Another was found to have kidney stones and was transported to a hospital. [emphasis added]

Random searches of passenger buses

There was a sad and highly-publicized fatal bus accident this year that, naturally, has led to a Congressional inquiry. As part of that inquiry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration lamented that they do not have the authority to conduct road-side inspections of the many popular, inexpensive and convenient (okay, those are my words, not theirs) passenger buses that are in operation along the eastern seaboard (also referred to around here as "Chinatown" buses because they often stop in the chinatown areas of NY, Philly, and DC). From the Sun article:

But what Anne S. Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, told members she is seeking seems more than reasonable — bigger fines for companies that violate the law, the ability to regulate on-line brokers and to shutter so-called "reincarnated" companies with serious safety problems in their past.
That would seem more than justified given that half of all bus-related deaths over the past decade can be traced to operators with safety issues. Frequently, they involve drivers who work far more hours than federal regulations allow.
One way Congress could dramatically improve bus safety would be to allow random road-side inspections. Small charter bus operators often don't have a fixed terminal or regular schedule, so conducting inspections otherwise can be challenging.
And, it concludes:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another prediction came true (unfortuanately)

Another 6-year old was searched by TSA - twice - upsetting his parents. This is only weeks after Pistole said that new procedures would be put in place to try to avoid pat-downs of children.

Abolish the TSA? Of course!

That's my opinion and I don't see any reason I will fly commercially again until the TSA is gone. Here's Ron Paul on the subject:

Another TSA thief

They know how to pick 'em!
On Monday police arrested Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport screener Nelson Santiago on two counts of grand theft for allegedly stealing up to $50,000 worth of passenger valuables over a six month period.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A pilot on the TSA's inappropriate behavior

H/T Boycott Flying

An assessment I agree with

The Atlantic has an editorial amid the recent pushes by Rep Chaffetz that the TSA implement more use of dogs. The truth of its final paragraphs can't be denied:
...  Most Americans ... understand that reinforced cockpit doors and the determination of airline passengers to fight back against hijackers are the most important security innovations to occur since 9/11.

In my estimation, TSA's failure to encourage assertiveness among the traveling public is its biggest failure of omission. Passengers, not screening personnel, stopped the shoe bomber and that guy who lit his underwear on fire. But air travelers are never explicitly told to fight if necessary. Nor are volunteers trained to function as something between a neighborhood watch program and a mile high national guard. We rely on surprisingly costly air marshals when with a little effort, a percentage of the traveling public might be persuaded to undergo training. Certainly they would've done so if asked by the president shortly after the September 11 attacks. Instead we've created a clunky bureaucracy that has mostly succeeded in making a subset of the traveling public feel embarrassed, violated, harassed, or otherwise upset. On the other hand, they've got 500 cute puppies.

'Wasteful spending' at ports

Is there any other kind when the TSA and Congress are involved?
To protect our ports, the federal government committed $420 million to work badges.
...But even though many workers have [biometric ID] cards, WFTV found secure entrances at Port Canaveral that had no equipment to scan their thumbprint.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Update on Yukari Miyamae

She will not be charged with a felony, although a misdemeanor is still possible. In fact, the judge released her without bail due to a lack of probable cause.

Federal anti-groping, anti-scanning bill

From a statesman, not a politician (Chaffetz and Mica, anyone?):

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on Thursday introduced legislation that would ensure that "any federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives federal funds are not immune from any US law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person."
"What we ultimately need is real privatization of security, but not phony privatization with the same TSA screeners in private security firm uniforms still operating under the 'guidance' of the federal government," Paul said in a statement introducing the bill. "Real security will be achieved when the airlines are once again in charge of protecting their property and their passengers."

Invasions of personal space

Everyone has their own line. Mine was getting viewed naked or touched intimately against my will. This woman was willing to put up with the naked scan and even a body pat-down, but felt the unsolicited hair tousling was too far. And I have no doubt that she's right that the TSA policies are applied inconsistently, so, whether this is racially motivated or not, her story of other women with big hair getting a pass is entirely believable.

This line in the article gives me the creeps, though:
While the TSA website states 'head coverings' are subject to search, there is no mention of how travellers should wear hair.
Really? If the TSA did have instructions for how travelers should wear their hair, would that be better or worse? I'm going with the latter.

Will history repeat itself?

On the demise of the puffer, and an illustration of government waste (at all levels of the government).

The Transportation Security Administration began using puffer machines in 2004 inside airports, but it started getting rid of them by 2008.

TSA spent about $29.6 million on its more than 200 machines and $6.2 million on their maintenance, said Sarah R. Horowitz, a TSA spokeswoman.

Horowitz wrote in an email to The Ledger that the machines were prone to frequent maintenance issues.

"Additionally, they were found to be more expensive to maintain than projected," Horowitz wrote. "Maintenance issues occurred because the dirt and humidity that naturally occurs in airport environments hindered the operation of this equipment."

D'ya think we're right to be worried whether the naked scanners will continue to operate properly?

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's legal for the TSA is illegal for anyone else

We still don't really know what happened at the Phoenix airport that led to the arrest of a 61-year-old frequent-flier. The TSA agent, who was trying to grab Yukari Mihamae's Miyamae's breasts under cover of the law, claims that Mihamae Miyamae grabbed her breasts (back?). But Mihamae Miyamae is denying this.

Does it really matter? The point is clear: A TSA agent can do whatever it wants and the TSA as well as local authorities will stand behind the agent. If a passenger protests too much, said passenger will be arrested.

Here's the "choice" we get when we pay an airline hundreds of dollars to travel within our own country:
  • Be viewed naked, getting exposed to additional unnecessary radiation (which have not definitively been shown to be harmless, by the way)
  • Get aggressively searched, including touching of the genitals and breasts and possibly including inordinate humiliation, particularly if you have a medical condition
  • Get arrested

EPIV v DHS decision

In short, the court says the scanners aren't unconstitutional because violating privacy is necessary, but, since they do indeed violate privacy, the TSA should have had a public comment period before installing them. The judge must have been channeling Orwell.

At least that's my take on it. Here are a few others:
UPDATE: For what it's worth, I just want to say that - while I applaud the efforts of EPIC - I do not see any possibility of legal success through the courts on this matter. EPIC has done an excellent job of bringing focus to this issue, but in the end it is the government ruling about whether the government is doing a good job. Once in awhile there's a victory here, but mostly these cases just show what a sham the system is. Sorry to be such a downer. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you want to expend your energy on something, you have to be realistic about the likely outcomes. To that end, I don't think an airline boycott is likely to help abolish the TSA. See my earlier post on this.

    Scanned then molested. But, why?

    This frequent-flier was reduced to tears and wants to know why:

    A mainstream journalist comes around

    Despite his nationalistic views on war and terrorism, the image of a 7-year-old assuming the position in a body scanner woke up a journalist who wrote at the NBC website:
    In Baghdad, I had to go through an earlier model of the machine before I was allowed to enter a courtroom for the trial of Saddam Hussein. That seemed reasonable at the time. There were millions of Iraqis who wanted to kill Saddam, or to at least disrupt his trial. The blurred-naked-photo-machine didn’t bother me then.
    It did bother me as I stood with my feet in outlines on the floor and my hands over my head, palms pressed together in Los Angeles. It bothered me even more as I watched a girl who couldn’t have been more than 7 years old forced to assume the same undignified position. I watched her mother help the girl, showing her how to raise her hands in the correct position. 

    Expectant mothers' concerns

    I cam across this interesting thread on a forum for hopeful mothers. The consensus is that these women don't trust the scanners one bit, and good for them!

    Here's the deal, ladies. There is basically zero science on what the effects of the naked scanners (be it ionizing or non-ionizing radiation) are on a developing fetus. Hopefully there is no danger and our government didn't just poison the next generation. But why risk it?

    Also, remember that you are going to be more sensitive during your pregnancy - both physically and emotionally. Carefully consider how you might react when a stranger violently gropes you, asks you to expose your belly, or questions what those pads are in your bra or what that elastic band is around your waist before you buy your plane tickets.

    WaPo editorial lambasts 'belly bombs' warning

    Good for Alexandra Petri, a Washington Post blogger, who writes of the belly bomb threat:
    ...this has moved beyond the realm of parody into whatever realm is beyond parody, maybe Narnia. Clearly nothing is too absurd to be considered a threat by the TSA.