Thursday, November 10, 2011

Update on the ASAC

In case you've been following the story of the biased representation of interests on the TSA's advisory committee, this article has some relevant information.

The tone-deaf TSA

A reporter notes that the expansion of the "Trusted Traveler" program is really out-of-touch with the whole OWS protests sweeping the nation:
That means going through security without removing shoes and jackets, leaving laptops undisturbed or having to follow restrictions on toiletries the other 99 percent of us must adhere to.
...OK, so maybe it's not totally unreasonable, but the idea of hassle-free check-ins for a lucky chosen well-heeled few, considering the times, could hardly be more tone-deaf.
I have to agree.

Another press release, with a small twist

At least this reporter opens with some bare-bones facts [emphasis added]:
A new security scanner at Meadows Field works exactly the same way as those that sparked last year's controversy over airport security screenings that produced detailed under-clothing images of travelers.
But the software is different.
Instead of a ghostly, X-ray-like image of the individual person, the machine at Meadows Field unveiled Tuesday produces a low-resolution, computer-generated image on which the computer projects a yellow blot in the area of any "anomaly" -- Transportation Security Administration terminology for anything hidden under clothing that "shouldn't be there."
Unfortunately, it just continues with the standard TSA-line on the cartoon software scanners with no further journalism besides what the TSA fed them.

Contrast the above with this more standard-issue press report [emphasis added]:
Full body scanners have been installed at Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield.

But, these are a new generation of scanners that are not as invasive as past body scans that caused public outcry.

The Advanced Imaging Technology will use new software to identify anomalies on a passenger without the "full monte" review.
Or this one, that just has lies from the TSA without further investigation:
About 800 of the $150,000 scanners are being used at 90 airports across the country, now including Bakersfield's Meadows Field. And it's actually making the security process more efficient; just 30 seconds and you're on your way.
More efficient?! I think not. The software-upgraded scanners are more efficient than the backscatter or original millimeter wave scanners, but certainly less efficient than not having scanners (which, I believe, that Bakersfield did not previously have any scanners)!

Stop groping me, or else...

...I'll run for President. Gotta love Jesse Ventura's willingness for a fight!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

You're next, Alaska!

The TSA has confirmed that porno-scanners are coming to Anchorage within weeks. Think of it as an early Christmas present! Or, maybe just boycott flying (hard to do for Alaskans, I know... d'ya think that's the point?).

9/11 retrospectives and the TSA

I started compiling this weeks ago and may still add more, but I want to post it before I forget. I have always mourned the innocent individuals who died 10 years ago, but I also think the advent of the TSA in its aftermath was a grave error. The TSA got a lot of press - good and bad - as people thought back about how airline security changed since the hijackings of 9/11. Here's some that I found and want to share:
...the TSA had the ability to make this new software, which he calls “blob” technology, an alternative to “the naked” technology, all along. It just took a lot of negative publicity and near revolt for them to pursue it.

The science on scanners

I meant to post this over the summer, but it got lost in the pile...

This MSNBC article is actually pretty good coverage of the issues surrounding the (lack of) science on scanners.

TSA's 10-year anniversary

Thanks to HuffPo for alerting me to this monumental and terrible anniversary. It's a reminder that we must get rid of this monstrosity before people get used to it and can't imagine a world without the TSA.

Most of the rest of Elliott's article is underwhelming, though. He says, "I'm no fan of the TSA's current practices," but yet he "support[s] the idea of professional airport screeners," by which he means he supports a government airport security force. He is "optimistic" that things will improve in the next 10 years, especially if they would only listen to his great ideas. By the way, all of his ideas ignore the very nature of government bureaucracy. It is extremely unlikely (because it goes against all built-in incentives) that the TSA will:
  • Deploy some common sense.
  • Know [it's] place. ("they will never be anything more than security guards with no law enforcement authority")
  • Beware of mission creep.
  • No more secrets.
  • Obey the law.
  • Lose weight now.
 And, because of that, the other ideas are unlikely to happen, too (since they require some combination of the above).

Elliott should not support the idea of professional screeners. It won't work (in terms of the public's civil liberties) no matter how optimistic he is.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fluff and propaganda

Does the author of this so-called story even realize that she is a shill for the state? In an article titled "Soaring Security" a reporter gives a run-down of the slow but steady squeeze on passenger rights since 9/11. But this only leads her to quote an airport authority and perpetuate the myth of airport security:
In a world of evolving risks and threats - airports say it's working with passengers, the federal government and diligence to keep air travel safe.
The discerning reader may pick up on her final sentence and it's implications (but how many discerning readers are there?):
Broome County's Commissioner of Aviation say advanced security technology - like body scanners, could at some point come to smaller regional airports like Binghamton.
Porno-scanners are coming to  Binghamton - the TSA has been very vocal on its goal of near 100% porno-scanners within just a few years.

Bennie Thompson was on the take

I recently sort-of praised Rep Bennie Thompson for standing up for passengers' civil liberties with respect to SPOT. Turns out he was a major beneficiary of Rapiscan lobbying prior to the scanner roll-outs.
Around [2006], Rapiscan began to beef up its lobbying on Capitol Hill. It opened a Washington, D.C., office and, according to required disclosures, more than tripled its lobbying expenditures in two years, from less than $130,000 in 2006 to nearly $420,000 in 2008. It hired former legislative aides to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., then chairman of the homeland security appropriations subcommittee, and to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss.
It started a political action committee and began contributing heavily to Price; Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., then head of the homeland security committee; Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., also on that committee; and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Senate appropriations committee.
In addition, it opened a new North Carolina plant in Price’s district and expanded its operations in Ocean Springs, Miss., [Lott's state] and at its headquarters in Torrance, Calif., in Harman’s district.
...But with the 2009 federal stimulus package, which provided $300 million for checkpoint security machines, the TSA began deploying backscatters as well. Rapiscan won a $173 million, multiyear contract for the backscatters, with an initial $25 million order for 150 systems to be made in Mississippi.        
Has Rep Thompson had a change of heart and now cares about passenger rights, or is it just that SPOT doesn't benefit his benfactors?

Whitehead on the ProPublica report

Whitehead is a lawyer who has been working to fight the TSA on its policies. In case you haven't seen him, you can read Whitehead's comments on the ProPublica report here.

Are these state laws still on the books?

A line in the ProPublica report caught my eye. It says, "Only a decade ago, many states prohibited X-raying a person for anything other than a medical exam."

If these laws are still on the books, then it looks like a solid case can be made in those states for suing the TSA. It seems likely that many legislators are not even aware that these laws exist.

What's a little cancer among friends?

The recent ProPublica/PBS report detailing the shady background to scanner installation at US airports has been making the rounds. I like the New American's take on it:
None of this is to say that government standards and inspections are a guarantee of safety or even that scanner manufacturers are deliberately making unsafe products. It does, however, suggest that while the government likes to portray itself as the one thing standing between Americans and certain harm from unscrupulous companies, that same government will not let a little thing like safety prevent it from imposing its will on the people.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Only the politically favorable will be able to fly soon

Pistole gave testimony on Capitol Hill in which he stated that the horrendous Trusted Traveler program is going to be expanded:
As a result, Pistole said, the agency is moving in the new direction by expanding several pilot security programmes and changing the way children are searched at airport security checkpoints.
A test programme that began last month at four American airports � Miami, Dallas, Detroit and Atlanta � lets passengers who volunteer personal information zip through a special screening lane without having to remove their shoes or jackets, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Pistole told lawmakers that it has worked so well that he wants to expand it to more airports.
"We are working closely with other airlines and airports to determine when they may be operationally ready to join," he said. [emphasis mine]
Here's the deal: you open up your entire personal, financial, political, medical, etc... files for the state, and it will allow you to take your family home for Christmas, have a face-to-face business meeting, or just take a vacation. This has great and terrible potential for abuse. Maybe you trust Pistole, (big sis) Napolitano, Obama, your Congressman, etc... But maybe you won't like the one that replaces him or her in five years. Are you so confident that there is nothing in your history that could ever be used against you by a totalitarian jerk?

I am also assuming that by using the plural "security programs," that SPOT will also soon be expanding beyond Boston. This is the Stasi-style interrogation methods in which they intimidate passengers in order to identify who is worthy of flying.

Letter to the editor criticizes media coverage of scanners

How refreshing. A Florida newspaper ran another glowing report (I'm sure a verbatim TSA press release with local commentary thrown in) about the local airport getting new scanners (with the cartoon software upgrade pre-installed - hence the propaganda). Not so fast, says a reader and frequent flier, what about the customer's point of view?
My wife and I had to use this machine when leaving Daytona Beach on Oct. 20. The machine found two problems; one on me and one on my wife.
...I just felt if The News-Journal was presenting all of the wonderful quotes by officials, it should also present the view of customers using the new TSA scanners.
Read the short letter to the editor for details on the "threats" these machines detected. Today, another reader followed up, pointing out that TSA rules are just plain dumb:
...The TSA's policy about carrying on a water bottle is another example of government policy gone overboard. I was going through security at Amsterdam's Schipol airport, and had forgotten about a water bottle in my carry-on. When the machine caught it, I was preparing to throw it in the trash can. The security officer motioned for me to take a drink from the bottle. I took a drink, swallowed the water and he then indicated it was OK to keep the water. If the security at Schipol can do this, why can't we?
The answer to his question is two-fold: All government-run programs, including airport "security," has a natural tendency to be idiotic, wasteful, and cruel because the incentives are for bureaucrats to protect their own butts (which is often at odds with protecting yours!). Second, the US is running an empire, so our bureaucracies are even dumber, more wasteful, and more cruel than your run-of-the-mill country's (like The Netherlands').