One Year Later, State of the TSA

One year ago, I published my video exposing the TSA’s nude body scanners as vulnerable to an extraordinarily simple attack: any metal objects placed on the side of the body are invisible. The TSA mocked, then threatened, then downplayed, but never denied that the $1B of our tax dollars spent on the most invasive search ever directed at the general public in the history of our nation is great at finding TSA screeners with small genitalia but utterly useless against fighting serious threats to aviation security.

Before I published my video, I said to my friends, “This is it — this is the end of the body scanners!” I believed that if the vulnerability I published was publicly exposed, the TSA would be forced to remove the machines. Anyone can use the technique to bring even a firearm through security completely undetected so the TSA would have to get rid of them, I thought. Yet one year later, the scanners are still here (and yes, I tested the exploit on one of the new millimeter wave scanners with ATD, the kind that swirl around your body and “create a [fake] 3-D image”). The TSA is too proud to return to metal detectors and admit that it wasted your money and invaded your privacy for nothing… even if that pride means we are significantly less safe when we fly.

We’ve seen some changes over the last year. We’ve seen one of the two types of scanners removed — the Rapiscan backscatter x-ray devices — and the other upgraded to include “automated threat detection” so that live people (supposedly) never see your nude body. This is a huge win, not only for privacy advocates but for those concerned about being dosed with ionizing radiation by their government. We’ve seen the TSA shrink back from threats of fines and jail for those who don’t want to allow the TSA to “touch their junk” (new non-public policy is simply to ask you to leave). We’re also seeing that court battles, after being tossed over questionable technicalities that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to address, are finally moving towards being heard.

We still have more work to do. The privacy violation, in the form of having every square inch of our bodies analyzed without cause (resulting in countless drug charges but zero terrorism charges), still exists. TSA assholery, from strip searching grannies, to stealing iPads, to traumatizing rape survivors, to making kids cry just for fun, to collaborating with airports to lie in Freedom of Information Act responses, still exists. But we’re getting somewhere, slow as it may be. If you’ve donated, shared links with your friends, or simply opted-out, thank you for your help.

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