Illegal Body Scanning
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If city councilman David Greenfield gets his way, travelers passing through New York City airports will no longer be required to walk through body scanners before boarding their flights. Yesterday, Greenfield and six other council members introduced a legislative proposal which would prohibit all New York City-based TSA employees from using Advanced Imaging Technology, capable of seeing through a passenger’s clothes.
As of last month, 341 such scanners were in use at 65 airports around the country, but the TSA is hoping to have a total of 1,000 machines in operation by the end of the year. The images captured by each scanner are transmitted to an isolated room, where a TSA employee examines them. Travelers are allowed to opt-out of the scans, but doing so would require them to undergo a vigorous pat-down, instead.
Greenfield believes that these scans simply violate passenger privacy without providing any substantive benefits to airport security. The TSA, which did not comment on the councilman’s proposal, has previously maintained that the scanners are safe and effective. A March report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, however, claimed that advanced scanners may not have caught the infamous Christmas Day bomber, who boarded a plane with explosives packed in his underwear. Medical experts, meanwhile, have raised concerns about the long-term health effects that the machines could have on users. “We’re not opting out of screening altogether,” Greenfield told Wired’s Threat Level. “We’re simply banning one type of screening that hasn’t proven effective.”
Greenfield is hopeful that his measure will prompt other local lawmakers to take a similarly strong stand. The TSA has already come under fire from privacy groups like the Electronic Privacy Information Center, which is seeking federal action against the use of the scanners. Advocates have also organized a National Opt-Out day, on November 24th, to protest the TSA.
Ultimately, though, federal law gives the TSA full authority over security at all U.S. airports, meaning that municipal bans may face an uphill battle. Still, Greenfield remains confident that local governments should have a greater say over what scanning techniques are employed at their airports — especially when said techniques involve such flagrant privacy violations. “It violates the privacy of everyone, including small children who go through these scans,” said Greenfield, a Democrat. “Which is really outrageous when you think about that.”
Coalition Petitions Homeland Security to Suspend Airport Body Scanners
EPIC and a broad coalition of organizations sent a formal petition to the Department of Homeland Security to demand that the agency suspend the airport body scanner program. The petition states that the “uniquely intrusive search” is unreasonable and violates the Constitution. The petition further states the program fails to comply with several federal laws, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act , the Privacy Act of 1974, and the Administrative Procedures Act. The petitioners also argue that the machines are ineffective and that there are better, less costly security technology. The petitioners contend that the TSA has routinely misled the pubic about the ability of the devices to store and transmit detailed images of travelers’ naked bodies. In a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, EPIC has already obtained technical documents, vendor contracts, and hundreds of traveler complaints. EPIC is seeking additional documents. For more information, see EPIC: http://epic.org/2010/04/coalition-petition-homeland-se.html
ALSO SEE PETITION AT: http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/petition_042110.pdf