Saturday, July 30, 2011

Traveling by air in UK and Canada

Here's a couple of articles of interest regarding international airport security:
  • The UK will be changing things up, but, while details are scarce, there is some speculation that they will adopt something more similar to the wonderful American TSA model:
Philip Hammond, the UK transport minister, is encouraging airports to rely on better screening devices rather than notionally random checks, which all too often end up with a certain percentage of passengers just being pulled aside for no specific reason.
The UK is also planning better links between airports and immigration officers of the UK Border Agency, which is aimed at reducing the bottlenecks at immigration that any regular Heathrow traveller will have experienced.
Aviation minister Theresa Villiers told the UK's Daily Telegraph: "What we are looking for is a better security outcome and we want this done in a more passenger-friendly way." 
It's clear that any changes will be underpinned by new technology -- potentially including the unpopular full-body millimetre-wave scanners currently employed at some US airports by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). 
The "passenger-friendly" suggested by Ms Villiers could involve the model suggested by airline trade body IATA at its Singapore meeting last month, which Australian Business Traveller walked through.
  • Canada is also following the TSA's lead in testing the cartoon software upgrade to their scanners. The article also gives some information about current airport systems in Canada:
[TSA-like Bureaucrat] Larocque said while in the U.S. the scanners are used as primary screening devices, the 41 located in Canadian airports are a secondary process if something is detected during the initial scan or a passenger is randomly selected. A passenger also has the choice of the scan or a physical search, Larocque added. 
Canada only uses the millimetre wave scanners.

Travel agents' association on new software upgrade

“ASTA is extremely pleased to learn of this new security measure that will enhance the overall travel experience. While ASTA has always been in strong support of adhering to a high standard of security, we have been cognizant of the need to balance that with a system that respects the privacy of travelers. This new technology strikes that note,” said Tony Gonchar, ASTA's CEO.
Travel agents are service-oriented, so, on the one hand, this shows that they understand how TSA policies have negatively impacted their customers. On the other hand, I think they're too kind to the TSA.

Friday, July 29, 2011

ACLU on new software upgrade

A Honolulu paper asks a local ACLU lawyer about the latest TSA software upgrade:
New software that will eliminate detailed images of passengers on body-scanning monitors at Honolulu Airport is a significant step toward enhancing privacy, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii said Thursday.
Still, the ACLU said it remains concerned about scanned images and pat-downs.
...Laurie Temple, ACLU Hawaii staff attorney, said Thursday she still has questions about the new software and noted travelers are still subjected to intrusive pat-downs, which a number of travelers equate with being sexually assaulted.

Rally in Florida on Sunday

Another rally is being planned:
According to organizers, the objective of the rally is not to protest, but rather to encourage sheriffs to uphold the Fourth Amendment, as well as Florida statutes on molestation, as they apply to TSA employees.   The rally will be held on Sunday, July 31, 2011, outside of the Hilton Oceanfront Resort, 100 N Atlantic Ave, Daytona Beach, from 4-7 pm.  The assembly is free and open to the public. Participants are encouraged to bring signs urging sheriffs to confront the TSA and protect Floridians' rights.

Missed connections: Carl, the TSO at McCarran International

Here's a dose of humor for all my jaded readers:
Yesterday I went to the Southwest terminal at McCarran International and found that EVERYONE goes through the nudie scanners unless one requests otherwise. Gone in this terminal are the random radiation blasts. Everyone gets radiation unless one opts out.

I opted out and got Carl. Now he was gentle, yet firm. He rubbed me in all the right spots and I loved it....
Read the rest, and also click around on some of the other TSA-related entries on that blog.

Update on the science on scanners

Lew Rockwell published my column today. An excerpt:
A brief background
In advance of the publicity of the installation of naked scanners at US airports, some activists and scientists were already making some noise. A group of UCSF scientists – John Sedat, David Agard, Marc Shuman, and Robert Stroud – sent a letter to the President’s science advisor, John Holdren, in April 2010 expressing their concern about the scanners. I have written about this elsewhere.
The Republican wing of the mainstream media picked up on a peer-reviewed article published in between the holidays last December that ran some simulations of the x-ray backscatter scanners. Recall that this followed shortly on the heels of the protests of last fall – when the TSA was rolling out more and more scanners, and also stepping up the invasiveness of their so-called pat-downs (known as custody searches by law enforcement). The authors, Leon Kaufmann and Joseph Carlson (again of UCSF) concluded that the reported capabilities of the scanners and the reported safety of the scanners were not consistent with each other. That is, either they don’t work as well as advertised, or they are more dangerous than advertised. There are also a number of other results in their paper that should be of interest to travelers, and I summarized them at that time on my blog.
I also wrote up a summary of Dr. Sedat’s second letter earlier this summer, this time to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). But my purpose here is to discuss a couple of peer-reviewed articles addressing the safety of the backscatter scanners that were published recently.
Why does any of this matter? I am of the opinion that even if the naked scanners are 100% safe and effective, they are still an egregious violation of individual rights. I oppose the use of the scanners on this basis. However, it is instructive of how negligent government is, by its very nature, to look at the case of the lack of scientific evidence showing these scanners to be safe and effective. The use of these scanners has been implemented in an incredibly stealthy manner. If you are a student of economics, history, government, or common sense, then this is not a surprise, but it is easy to ignore. I want to make it harder to ignore how the TSA has acted and harder to excuse those actions.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dumbest thing in the world

Try to go to tsa.gov in your browser. It won't load. You must type the "www." in front.

(If you don't know why this is dumb or funny, just ignore me today.)

Jesse Ventura's case

Here's the latest:

The Justice Department has filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, claiming that the searches are legal and that they can only be challenged in a federal appeals court.

Cato on EPIC v DHS

I was skeptical based on the title of this article (Strip-Search Machine: A Loss Seeds A Win), but it's a good, honest analysis of what happened and also links to this excellent debate on Reason years ago.

Dated testamonial from amputee is circulating

This story from the beginning of last summer (May 2010) is heartbreaking, not only for the humiliation of this woman, but also the ridiculous justification given for the ill-treatment of her son:
As predicted, and as is typical, I was directed to the Plexiglas waiting area after I triggered the metal detector. Robby proudly walked through the sensors, running into my arms. Apparently that was a mistake, because he was taken back through the sensors again because he had been "compromised" by touching me. He was not pleased.

... After Robby's second screening, he was directed by an imposing figure to sit in a chair and not to communicate with me. He was scared and asked me if everything was okay. He broke the "rule" and the consequence was a full body pat down. I was forced to sit in a chair and helplessly watch my scared little boy get patted down for explosives. I was angry and perplexed when they pulled back his hands and peeked into his diaper. When his ordeal was over, Robby sat quietly shaking in a chair staring at me.
So, a 4-year-old (four!!) is expected to 1) stay separated from his mother, 2) sit still, and 3) not talk, including asking his mother if everything is okay. Any one of those three demands is, well, just dumb, not to mention wrong. But the TSA piled on three stupid, immoral, and probably illegal demands.

The story continues. The woman was ordered (against TSA policy and probably against the law) to remove not only her prosthetic, but also her liner, which protects her limb from injury, infection, and the view of the public. Both the boy and his mother were crying from this ordeal, but she was surrounded by 4 agents (really - how many bullies does it take to gang up on one disabled woman?).

These stories - at varying degrees - are happening all the time and will continue to happen at a more rapid pace until this rogue agency is eliminated.

H/T Bill Fisher

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How you (can't) avoid the TSA

I'm not sure what to make of the last sentence:
Somehow, playing this cat-and-mouse game seems silly. Shouldn't we be welcoming the screening instead of running from it?
but the rest of this article has useful and accurate information, and I think it gives some good publicity to the cause.

TSA deters all flyers

I doubt this poll is scientific, but it is telling that it is on a website that caters to federal workers:
FedSmith.com is an information portal for sources of information impacting the federal community. The site provides links to daily news headlines, original articles from our writers, Federal Retirement information including a TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) tracker and a TSP Portfolio tool, as well as quick links to pages of interest to the Federal community and those interested in the Federal Government's activities.
Here's what they found:

Since the TSA-required enhanced screening and pat-downs at airports went into effect in 2010, have you changed your attitude toward flying for personal (as opposed to business) trips?
I fly more 2.3%
No change 8.0%
I avoid flying whenever possible 89.7%

Do you believe the TSA-required enhanced screening and pat-downs at airports make it safer for Americans to fly?
Yes 7.5%
No 77.0%
Not sure 15.5%
Read the rest.

An advice columnist 'sobbing' over pat-down

Amy Alkon writes of her recent experience with an invasive pat-down and, also, her boyfriend's experience being prevented from filming the event.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Be afraid, be very afraid!

I guess big-sis Janet thought some of us were starting to get too comfortable and feeling too safe. She assures us, however, that we are still in danger, the DHS has done a good job of making us safer, and terrorists are intent on targeting our airplanes.

LAX security theater

This is a follow-up to the video I posted before showing a security door unlocked at LAX. This article at NBC shows that the "security" at LAX is hilariously bad. But - all passengers must be groped to make sure we're safe from the terrorists!

Making another woman cry at ORD

A gentleman posts in Flyertalk:
While waiting for my now chronically delayed flight from ORD, I noticed a pregnant TSO working around the AIT. The TSO was performing pat-downs, but was constantly moving near the machines. I found it concerning that (1) a pregnant woman would willingly expose herself to a radiation-laden work environment with no protection and (2) that her employers would allow her to do so. At the very least, couldn't they assign her duties that don't have her working right next to the machines

I grabbed a few photos. Then I noticed that the woman she was patting down was visibly upset by being patted down. The lady had gone through the AIT, but was not allowed to leave.
He posted some pictures, including this one:


And then links to the video he made: "I quickly turned on my camera and grabbed the following video:"

Rally in Florida on Thursday

Folks upset at the extreme security measures imposed at airports by the Transportation Security Administration will get a chance to vent Thursday when a rally protesting TSA screening tactics is held on Okaloosa Island.  ...

A goal of Thursday’s Americans for Dignity Rally is to encourage Florida legislators to pass laws protecting state residents from groping by federal agents.
H/T Boycott Flying

Separating you from all of your belongings

When I travel, I want to make sure I don't lose some key items. My phone, a credit card and/or cash, maybe a key to my house or car, my ID, and maybe a ticket for whatever transportation I'm taking. In the past, when I've gone through airport security, the magnetometer requires that I depart with my cell phone and purse, but I'll often keep my ID, maybe a credit card, and my boarding pass in my pocket or hand. I think this is totally normal behavior, and, to be honest, I'd be much more comfortable if I didn't have to part ways with my cell phone and wallet. And I feel naked without my watch. I avoid(ed) wearing a belt and jewelry when I would fly, and some women even avoid underwire bras (which can definitely make the woman "feel naked") But, the way magnetometers and carry-on x-ray machines are set up, you put things down on the belt, walk alongside the x-ray machine, and - often times - your items come out of the machine after you have made your way through.

I haven't been through a naked scanner, and I haven't seen a checkpoint with one in person. However, in all of the pictures and videos I've seen, the x-ray belt is not directly adjacent to the scanner, and the passenger is standing still, facing sideways, and looking at the inside of the scanner. In one of the numerous stories about the software upgrade, the TSA rep is bragging about how a piece of paper was identified in a man's pocket by the naked scanner.

But wouldn't it be entirely normal for a person to have a $20 in their pocket? Or their ID? Or their boarding pass?

What planet do you live on where you feel safer being visibly and physically separated from all of your belongings, including the various security blankets that you carry with you every other waking hour?

Tortured logic from Slate

I liked where I thought this was going, but then it went exactly where I expect Slate to go. Back up the government everytime:
... The monitor next to you, which supposedly eliminates secrecy by showing you what the TSA officer sees, will show you nothing. And yet, your naked body has just been scanned. So the monitor isn't showing you what TSA has seen. It's showing you what the TSA officer is seeing. And those two things are now different, thanks to the new "Automated Target Recognition" software. The job of scrutinizing your naked body has been taken away from human beings and reassigned to computers.
The original version of privacy, before airport scanners, was that nobody could see you naked as long as you wore clothes. When TSA introduced scanners, that understanding of privacy was replaced by a new version based on anonymity: One TSA officer could see the contours of your naked body, and another could see your face, but neither officer could connect the two. Now comes a third version of privacy, based on automation: Your naked body will be carefully scrutinized, but only by a machine. Unless, that is, you trigger the scanner's detection alert, in which case the part of your body where the threat was detected "will require additional screening" by a TSA officer, possibly including a pat-down.
Does the automation of scan analysis eliminate your discomfort? If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, does it make a sound? If you're scanned through your clothes, and no human being is there to view the image, have you been rendered naked?
I'd say no. I'd say Automated Target Recognition is the end of naked scanning. ...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Barr on the TSA and mission creep

An excerpt:

Even as TSA continues to employ every scare tactic it can muster to justify its existence and large budget, it is extending its reach far beyond the airport checkpoints that have given rise to so many horror stories of invasive pat-downs and naked body scans. At TSA, mission creep has become an art form.
TSA and agents with its parent, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), now consider it their mission to stop private vehicles on highways and search them. They have also begun to search bus and train passengers, sometimes after they exit the carriers; and the feds believe also they have authority to search people at shopping malls and elsewhere, such as sporting events. It is only a short step from such expansive ideas, to the notion that to protect the country, TSA and DHS have to be able enter private homes and businesses in order to ensure there are no terrorist tools therein.

The TSA is listening? Don't make me laugh!

A representative of Flyers Rights claims that the TSA is listening to complaints by flyers and pushed more formally by some passengers rights organizations. Not only that, but recent steps like raising puppies, using cartoon images, starting Trusted Traveler, promising to retest the scanners, and getting a slap on the wrist are signs that we've almost won (okay, she doesn't say that we've almost won, but her picture is way too rosy):
After an extended period of inappropriate, knee-jerk response, dealing with real security threats by providing security theater, the TSA is slowly responding to public outcry. Widespread discontent with the TSA's new measures was focused through the efforts of consumer advocacy groups such as FlyersRights.org, Ralph Nader's Center for Study of Responsive Law, and Marc Rotenberg's Electronic Privacy Information Center, and our efforts are beginning to bear fruits.
...The only consistency in TSA's application of its policies is their too-frequently random application. However, our other concerns are making headway.
...Those important issues aside, FlyersRights and our allies strongly object to our government's trampling of our Constitution. Even here, where the Department of Homeland Security has proven the most tone-deaf, we see progress.
 Here's my point-by-point rebuttal:
  • The dogs are not going to replace the scanners. The number of scanners to be installed is scheduled to double, with nearly every passenger screened with them within a couple of years. Furthermore, dogs are still a rights violation and are being used because they can detect drugs. Carrying and doing drugs is a victimless crime and the Drug War has a deadly and expensive track-record. Finally, dogs are not perfect either, but cops act as though they are. This may mean that innocent people will be more likely to be wrongfully detained.
  • The "retest" of scanner radiation is not addressing the underlying problems that scientists have raised about the scanners. This is just a technician going around checking to make sure that the machines do what the manufacturer says they do and using an SOP that the manufacturer created.
  • The cartoon images change to scanners is no less a rights violation. You are still having a naked photograph taken. They've just added software that hides the naked image from view and shows a stick figure. They still are collecting the data of what you look like naked without any warrant.
  • Trusted Traveler is bad.
  • EPIC v DHS, while admirable, was a failure with a very, very small concession. The TSA can probably even circumvent the "public comment" entirely and no one will sanction them.
Look, I'm glad that Flyers Rights is speaking out about this and I see why they want to paint a rosy picture, but things are worse now than they were a year ago. There are more scanners, the pat-downs are more invasive, and the TSA regularly makes statements showing that it does not see limits on its power.