Frequently Asked Questions

I’m doing my best to read through all the comments, both here and around “the interwebs” (as TSA Blogger Bob would put it), and wanted to address some of the more common ones here:

Q: Can’t they just rotate you 90° and take another scan?
A: Not logistically.  Adding a second scan will double the amount of time per scan.  This might not seem like a big deal, but you’d need double the machines and double the staff to handle the traffic, increasing an $8B/year, 60,000-large agency to who knows how big.  There’s also not enough physical space at the airports to accommodate this.  Additionally, you’d be receiving twice the dose of radiation (and no matter what they say, it indeed has the potential to be harmful, not because of the amount, but because it is focused entirely on the skin), not to mention twice the false positive rate.  The false positive rate is already estimated at around 40%, and taking a second scan would increase that to 64%.  If two-thirds of people are going to need a pat-down anyway, what’s the point?  Finally, doing a profile view would require a software upgrade, especially for the ATD systems, which will take significant time to build, test, deploy, and train for.

Q. Would it work with the new scanners with the “stick figure” images?  Don’t they swivel around your body and create a 3-D image?
A. The video shows me going through BOTH the older Rapiscan backscatter x-rays (at FLL) as well as the brand new L-3 Provision millimeter wave scanners with Automated Threat Detection (“stick figure technology,” at CLE).  This exploit works with ALL scanners the TSA currently has.  The L-3 scanners simulate a 3-D image, but do not image you from all sides, and thus the (non-)threat item does not make it into the simulation.  This is additionally aided by the pose the TSA has you adopt.  With arms above your head, a the sides of a button down shirt will actually be pulled away from your body if you’re of average or thin build.  The farther the object is from your body, the less likely a front/back image is to catch it contrasting against your body.

Q. How do we know this is for real?
A. Well, the non-denial by the TSA’s official response on their blog is a good start (read the comments — they’re great!).  I’ll be submitting a Freedom of Information Act request on Monday for a copy of the security video showing me going through the scanners, which should fairly conclusively show that the object travelled through the scanners with me.  But those requests take time, so if you’re in a hurry, I do think the video posted clear enough instructions on how to replicate my test. :)  Remember, the machines have very frequent false positives, so in order to increase my likelihood of success, I wore a plain shirt (no fancy patterns, smallest buttons possible) and used thin fabric and single-stitched sewing for the pocket, and made sure the test item was 100% metal on the outside — no plastic, rubber, or glass.  Also, to be clear, I’m not advocating or inciting anyone to try this — I’m just saying it would be possible.

Q. Are you worried that terrorists will take advantage of the alleged flaw?
A. We have this big security flaw, which is a hole that can either be exposed by the TSA in an investigation, which obviously hasn’t happened yet; by a citizen investigation, which has now happened; or by a terrorist doing an investigation, which is what we don’t want to happen.  By identifying this flaw, we can fix it before that third option happens.  Also, the TSA was provided with a copy of my video before it was published publicly.

Q. Why did you state that we should privatize airport security?
A. There are lots of reasons why we need to privatize airport security, but before I get into them, I want to be clear that my priority is to get our right to a reasonable search (no nude scanners, no “touching people’s junk”) restored to airports, regardless of whether the screeners are government or non-government.  Longer term, I would love to see the TSA’s role reduced.  First, privatizing security means that if there is a problem, I can vote with my money.  If an airline decides to have abusive screeners, I’ll fly another airline that cares.  Second, I do believe (and as best I know, there is little argument showing otherwise) that we can do private security for less money than government security.  Third, as a political preference, I prefer my government to be as small as possible.  A 60,000 employee agency to secure airports is absolutely absurd, and ends up being full of waste (see point #2) and less agile.  Fourth, in having sued the TSA, I can tell you that they hide behind immunity that is only available to the government, whereas private companies would be more easily brought to justice for abuse.

Q. What’s the story with your TSA lawsuits, and how are they going?
A. My original lawsuit against the TSA (compilation of all documents) was filed in November 2010, which seeks injunctive relief (no money) to force the TSA to stop photographing us naked and touching our genitals.  It was dismissed from U.S. District Court under an obscure law that requires “orders” of the TSA to be “appealed” (to the Courts of Appeals) rather than the subject of a new action in the District Courts.  While I argued that Congress intended an “order” to be the result of an agency proceeding (for example, revoking one’s security credentials after allegations of impropriety, whereby one would be entitled to argue their side to the TSA, present evidence, etc.), the TSA argued basically that any decision they make that they write down is an “order” and insulates them from review by District Courts.  So why not just file in the Court of Appeals?  There are no jury trials there, no witness stand, and no right to discovery.  We have the right to all of these things when we question the constitutionality of our government’s actions, and I will be appealing this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court shortly.

I also filed a second lawsuit earlier this month as a result of being kicked out of FLL airport.  During that process, the TSA unlawfully detained me, threatened me with arrest, threatened me with forcible search, conducted a retaliatory search of my belongings, unlawfully took my personal information, and then conspired with the airport operator to hide the videos of this.  Luckily, I was recording the entire thing using my cell phone sitting a few feet away.

Q. How can I sue the TSA?
A. If the TSA has wronged you, it is possible to sue them and win.  I’m not an attorney and cannot give you legal advice, but I can suggest that some of the first things you need to do are to file Freedom of Information Act requests to get any evidence (especially video), and to file a notice of claim with the agency (you have limited time!).  Read up on the Federal Tort Claims Act and Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents for more details.  As best I am aware, you must file in federal court — your local small claims court won’t do.  You should be aware that it’s a long process, and not worth starting if you don’t intend to follow through with significant research and writing, or pay a lawyer to do so.

Q. What can I do to help?
A. Contact your Representatives and Senators and ask them to take a look at the video and then remove all funding for the body scanners.   Additionally, there’s a donation link to contribute towards helping my lawsuit seeking injunction against the TSA’s nude body scanners and genital groping make it to the U.S. Supreme Court for the win.  Filing is expensive, printing and mailing is expensive (in SCOTUS, documents must be filed with 40 copies — no joke!), and I’ve taken hundreds of hours off of work to get things done so far.  It’s important that we go after the TSA from all angles and simultaneously prove to Congress, the courts, and the public that the scanners are unsafe, ineffective, and invasive, and your support — either financially, in the form of calling your representatives, protesting, or whatever you can and choose to do — helps this to happen.  A huge thank you to those who have donated so far — it’s been incredible to see!

Q. What are your “official” accounts?
A. “tsaoutofourpants” here on WordPress, Google, Y Combinator, Reddit, Blogger (TSA Official Blog), and I’ve posted on several smaller sites as well.  Follow me on Twitter using “tsaoutourpants” (no “of”).

Q. What will you do next?
A. The ball is in the TSA’s court.  They can’t ignore this — the mainstream media coverage is just beginning!  I’ve been in touch with some of the larger MSM outlets yesterday, and additionally, I’ve been in touch with the offices of several members of Congress.  We’ll see what the TSA does, and take it from there.

About tsaoutofourpants
I'm a 30 year old entrepreneur and frequent flyer who opposes visual and manual inspection of the private parts of our bodies! I hope you'll join me in my fight to have our rights restored!

32 Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

  1. You’re right–the TSA blog post about your video is a side-stepper and the comments are great.

  2. esgatch says:

    Interesting article on the risk of the scanners:

    http://www.tjradcliffe.com/?p=114

  3. Why don’t they just install a checkerboard background in the scanners? Wouldn’t that completely defeat your exploit? It’s the same way programs like Photoshop make it easy for you to see transparent areas.

    • Silence Dogood says:

      The color of the background is actually irrelevant. That isn’t made entirely clear in the video.

      The reason the background appears to be black is because the imaging equipment is registering a “no return”, or “no data received”. You’ll notice that none of these machines have a “black background” out in the field.

      The machines are only “looking” essentially for human flesh, which is why it appears white on the images. IOW, human flesh gives a return to the machine to process and render an image. The portions that don’t return against the flesh appear black, which is why an item concealed on the skin shows.

      Put that item off to the side, there will be no return, no register, and therefore no image to analyze. It doesn’t matter if the background is checkerboard, lime green, or pink with white polka dots. No return is no return. This video proves the machines can only see items when displayed against a return item, such as skin.

  4. Asclepius says:

    Let’s start pronouncing rapiscan the correct way: rape-e-scan. Rapeyscan more adequately reflects the intent of the TSA, their naked body scanners, and their genital groping pat downs, and that is to rape us.

  5. Robert K says:

    My understanding is that most of the questions around health concerns are with the (old) backscatter x-ray systems, not the newer millimeter wave technology. It’s only the x-ray systems that have the issue with radiation being concentrated in the skin.

    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Backscatter_X-ray , “Unlike cell phone signals, or millimeter-wave scanners, the energy being emitted by a backscatter X-ray is a type of ionizing radiation that damages chemical bonds.”

    The article goes on to talk about work by the x-ray backscatter system’s inventor to disprove the UCSF scientists’ claims.

    • Silence Dogood says:

      The simple fact of the matter is that not a single human health study has been conducted on either of these technologies. We simply do not know what those long-term effects will be.

      Furthermore, there are anecdotal reports of people using the “safer” MMW machines and experiencing tingling sensations, dizziness, and blurred vision.

      I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m certainly not interested in waiting to see if these technologies are safe for no benefit in return. These machines have a glaring weakness.

      And none of this goes to the heart of the matter that an electronic strip search and/or grope is a clear 4th Amendment violation.

  6. Susan says:

    There are also questions about the effect of millimeter waves on DNA. Apparently, non-linear resonance can unzip strands of DNA. Non-linear instabilities have a lower probability of forming but they still do form.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24331/

    “Don’t worry; it’s safe” has never been a satisfactory answer for me. At least when I climb in my car and start it up, I know something about the risks driving down the street and nobody steps in and says “Don’t worry; it’s safe.”

  7. Jeff says:

    In response to FAQ #1, since nobody seems to be suggesting it: why can’t they just rotate you at random by 45 degrees to the left or right, instead of always facing forward? So, as you step into the machine, a sign flashes to indicate in which direction to turn. Wannabe terrorists won’t know which side to hide the bomb/knife/gun on until they’re stepping into the scanner. It would work through the same process as random pat-downs. i.e. the goal isn’t 100% certainty, but rather to raise the statistical odds against the evil-doer.

    (screw the TSA either way, but I don’t see the recent “it only works in one dimension!” discovery as inherently decimating the value of the radiation machines)

  8. Jake says:

    the physiological effects of the X-ray backscatter machines is likely substantial due to the points brought up by the UCSF professors: (1) the EM waves are individually high energy, so each photon carries a high energy (2) the TSA itself claims the X-rays only penetrate just below the skin, meaning the exposed tissue volume is very low relative to the radiation dose. even if each scan is 1/10 the radiation exposure of medical x-ray, which i suspect is a low estimate, it is incident on only ~1% of your body’s volume, making each scan the equivalent of exposing only your skin to 10 medical x-rays. considering the extra cost of these machines relative to magnetometers, the radiation exposure should make the discontinuation of these machines a no-brainer.

    the millimeter wave scanners are a better idea but they too emit radiation that is, imo, unsafe. the phrase “millimeter wave” is usually meant to refer to a range of EM waves with frequencies 30 GHz – 3 THz. there have been some studies that suggest radiation exposure in this frequency range is biologically safe at the levels used in the body scanners, at least over short periods of study, but this is (1) a very large frequency range and (2) short-term academic studies are unlikely to find evidence of genetic anomalies induced by the exposure.

    in the UK and several other countries they are currently using *passive* millimeter wave scanners to detect radiation that is given off by items concealed under a person’s clothes. this tech detects part of the blackbody radiation given off by physical items without exposing people to any additional radiation. this is a much better option than what is currently in use in the US.

    i consider the TSA to be among the most blatant wastes of money and human energy in the US government today. despite my acute disdain for the organization, i feel sorry for the TSA agents who must stand next to these scanner machines and be exposed to radiation whose effects have not be studied with any rigor. most TSA agents have a high school diploma and nothing further afaict, not exactly the kind of people who have a clue about radiation. unless something has changed recently TSA agents are not allowed to wear radiation exposure badges despite working in close proximity with devices that emit radiation.

    TRIVIA: circa 05-06 these body scanners were used in iraq on iraqis entering secured areas e.g. bases. the process of them being scanned was referred to as “nuking the natives” and scans were conducted by a halliburton contractor behind a lead wall away from the devices in question. surely these devices are safe for use on the general US population…

  9. Rob says:

    Jon, my first question for your is : If you care so much for the “American People” and our rights , etc, then why are you so spiteful with your comments? Seems you like a little sensationalism in your posts to spice it up. Your reference to Charlie Sheen , et al , makes you appear hateful and a bit anal. If you dont want to appear to have a personal agenda and want to be taken seriously , you should not try so hard to be a douche. I do appreciate your expose and research , but you taint all your fine work with your spiteful comments. Maybe you should go to work for TMZ. No wait, you have no personality , so forget that. Point is , be informative without the coloring . The Fast and Furious comment made no sense whatsoever, btw. It was a disjointed attached comment and supports my opinion that your just being sensationalist . Just stick to the facts , that’s what your good at .

  10. reggie says:

    Thank you Jon for all your hard work. There should be no forced radiation period!

  11. Robert says:

    Thank you for being brave enough to do this. My “subspecialty” in the TSA fight is TSA theft; after having a $1500 watch stolen at LAX, I started to become very interested in it. Since the TSA began, TSA agents have been arrested for crimes against passengers at a rate of about one every 10 days. ( See http://www.shinybadge.com/ )

    The reason I started opting out of the nude-o-scope is because I don’t want to take my eyes off of my personal belongings, and the “blue box” X-Ray machines are opaque. Now, of course, I’m worried about radiation, too. My dental technician had to take two years of training before using that equipment; I can’t believe that a TSO has received similar training.

  12. Susan says:

    The problem with privatizing airport security is if they have to follow TSA “guidelines” – which are flawed, conflicting, and downright useless.

    If we can get around that obstacle, and if security protocols were outlined within the framework of safeguarding our liberties, then the private screening companies would probably be a better solution. In the words of Congress in its November report, TSA has become a “bloated” “human resources agency” with a “one size fits all” security solution. Private screening companies would probably be leaner and more targeted.

  13. Larry says:

    Great, and kudos for your straightforwardness and bravery to take on the TSA buffoons. No one is dumber than them. I fly from Israel to USA frequently and so I see the difference between the two systems. Israeli system is fast and effective. TSA is manned by low intelligence buffoons that generate more income for their security companies.
    Again, thanks for bringing this out into the open and best wishes for success in your law suit.
    Larry formerly from LA

  14. Diana Munar says:

    I am glad there are TSA bodyscanners have you seen anyone get by and affect our AMERICAN peace no. If there is a blindspot then ask to fix it if you are interested inthe welfare of the country.Why are you trying to make money off of our AMERICAN PEACE, you can still think you were smart in this but you should devote time to make this process more efficient maybe they will pay you instead!Also, the governemtn has their best interest for the nation and it’s residents. Don’t you, if you do why charge for the blindspot and make it known hello, why tell instead of suggesting how to fix it, what is the point of mass media and public you tube video just FIX the BLIND SPOT smarty pants.BE SMAR not a whiner with no solution. You never heard a bomb in th eUSA thnak god for that and well I insit and pray you focus on making it your priority to stop the badgering to a free and safe country, nothing serious happened and well you can make a difference then do it. Don’t fight and take maoney then your losing time in not showing cooperation just greed!

    • Asclepius says:

      By your broken English I assume you are not from this country. That’s okay, but I suggest you familiarize yourself with our Constitution as it embodies the tenets of our culture. The TSAs naked body scanners and molestation pat downs violate a number of the core principles this country was founded upon. We would rather be free and assume a certain level of risk, than be the subjects of a fascist police state. If you do not wish to assimilate into our culture, or if you feel that our free standard of life is somehow fundamentally flawed, I would politely ask you to leave. You will be more happy, though not necessarily safer, in a different country.

    • Susan says:

      Care to reconsider that statement “You never heard a bomb in th eUSA thnak god for that” ?

      Haymarket riot Chicago 1886.

      Wall Street September 1920.

      Pearl Harbor 1941.

      San Francisco Police 1970.

      Weather Underground NYPD 1970 US Capitol 1971.

      Oklahoma City 1995 McVeigh.

      Except for Pearl Harbor, this was all home-grown terrorism. Yes, the US has had bombs.

  15. Diana says:

    My sister and her boyfriend flew from Denver to Ft. Lauderdale on March 6, 2012. They went through the Denver airport body scanner. The TSA somehow mixed up their order of images through the body scanner and read them out of order thus patting down my sister’s buttocks looking for metal buttons that did not exist on her pants. The metal buttons were on her boyfriends pants who never received the additional pat down.

  16. Jeanetta Dumouchel says:

    I saw the suit Jon Corbett filed against TSA. Jesse Ventura tired to file a suit against TSA last year and the court told him they did not have jurisdiction. If you understand that then you will know how to fight them. How to bring them into your jurisdiction :) Jesse did not understand what that all meant so he did not know how to proceed.

    • I’ve been in touch with all the lawyers that have sued over this matter, including Jesse Ventura’s, and I can say that his lawyers were some of the brightest attorneys I’ve ever spoken to. It’s not that they “didn’t understand,” but rather that the TSA is trying (successfully, so far) to abuse a statute that limits jurisdiction over their actions. These actions are cutting at the core of American jurisprudence and are quietly limiting our rights to petition our government for a redress of grievances and our due process rights.

      • Jeanetta Dumouchel says:

        I understand that to be true because they are litigating in an equity/corporate venue. For litigation to be effective, it needs to proceed in a common law venue where the statutes (codes, actually) have no standing and are entirely extrinsic. Only in the common law venue will rights be respected. In the venue of attorneys, your privileges will be debated endlessly and at your expense. 14th Amendment ‘persons’ have no rights and to claim them as a ‘person’ is frivolous in the eyes of the court. As they are fond of saying, ignorance of the law is no excuse.

        In any case, I wish you well.

  17. Jeff LeFevre says:

    Thank you for fighting for us. It is wonderful that someone still cares about this and is doing more than inciting panic – but educating others – on how to fight injustice.

  18. Anthrax says:

    Thank you Jon for making this documentary. All I got to say. x

  19. LibertyLover says:

    This would be a good opportunity to go through the scanners with dosimeters in those pockets to find out how much radiation is really there.

    • Susan says:

      As long as the dosimeter were properly calibrated to the specifications of the machine. The average person cannot just grab any dosimeter on the shelf assuming one size fits all and correctly interpret what it registers.

  20. Pingback: Rebel of the Week: Jonathan Corbett, the blogger whose viral video exposed the loophole in the TSA’s body scannersSilver Circle Underground | Silver Circle Underground

  21. Pingback: Followup on the TSA Scanning Fiasco | Just My Opinion

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