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.

Press Release: TSA to Remove All Rapiscan Nude Body Scanners

January 18th, 2013 (Miami Beach, Fla.) – As a result of the public outcry regarding the invasiveness of the TSA’s nude body scanner program, Congress has required the TSA to remove all scanners that produce an image of a traveler’s unclothed body for inspection by a TSA screener. The TSA today has indicated that it will comply by June of this year, resulting in the removal of all Rapiscan x-ray devices from airports across the country.

The Rapiscan x-ray scanners represented perhaps the TSA’s most egregious violation of the public, as in addition to the creation of a detailed image of the intimate areas of the body, it doses the traveler with ionizing radiation, a known carcinogen. It was estimated that these devices may kill several travelers per year by damaging the DNA of body tissues and turning healthy cells into cancerous cells.

Our fight against TSA abuse is unfortunately not over. The remaining nude body scanners, built by L-3 Communications (the same company that tortured the prisoners of Abu Ghraib), still require Americans to submit to an inspection of every inch of their body, completed by a computer rather than a person. While the TSA’s Congressional mandate and constitutional boundaries require it to search solely for items that can be used to terrorize air travelers, it is clear that the L-3 nude body scanners far exceed the scope necessary to find weapons, and instead are used to further the government’s failed war on drugs at the expense of our liberties. It has also been made abundantly clear that anyone in possession of entry-level sewing skills could easily defeat this technology, leaving our skies at risk. Furthermore, the continual false-positives — estimated to be at a rate between 30% and 70%– result in “pat-downs” that have infamously left children in tears, parents in jail for daring to object, the elderly humiliated, and everyone in between wondering how we got to the point where the government quite literally has its hands in our pants.

Removal of the Rapiscan devices is a step in the right direction, and we look forward to the eventual removal of all body scanners and the elimination of the “pat-down” program that places government hands on the genitals of our families.

New Petition + TSA Removes 91 Body Scanners

It’s been a crazy 2 years. I never really imagined myself as a civil rights advocate, but on November 16th, 2010, I found myself sitting in a South Beach bar unable to enjoy my evening because I was so disturbed by what had just occurred in our airports. I sat there thinking long and hard about how unbelievable it was that our government was now asking to photograph us naked if we wanted to enter an airport, and I eventually came to this poetic conclusion: “Fuck this shit!” I left my mostly-full drink on the bar and returned to my office at about 2 AM, and didn’t stop writing until the sun was brightly shining through my window. I made the 7 mile trek to the courthouse with my new documents on rollerblades across the Venetian Causeway, which is beautiful on a sunny day, in about 25 minutes. The friendly U.S. Marshalls for sure still know me as “the guy with the rollerblades.”

I’ve since had some crazy experiences (Getting kicked out of airports? Presenting my work to Congress? Seeing my name on Drudge Report?) and met some amazing people, who have encouraged and supported me to this 2 year anniversary. Our fight moves slowly, but I’m ready to keep going, thanks to you all!

Today, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, along with the Department of Homeland Security, will be opening packages with a brand new petition asking for judicial review of the TSA’s nude body scanner and genital inspection programs. This petition is the first to be filed in a Court of Appeals that squarely addresses the constitutionality of the body scanners, and will seek an immediate stay of the order. I’m excited that the merits of my case may finally be addressed! Documents are linked below.

Also, great news: the TSA has removed 91 scanners from active use, put into a notorous graveyard for expensive taxpayer-funded gadgets that the TSA refers to as a “storage room” in Texas. This storage room is the same place where the “puffer machines” of 2006 rotted until they were thrown out. My prediction is that these machines will never scan another person. It’s a great step forward!

Corbett v. DHS – Petition (.pdf)
Corbett v. DHS – Motion to Transfer (.pdf)
Corbett v. DHS – Motion to Stay (.pdf)

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