Naked Insecurity

If you are planning to fly over the 4th of July holiday, be aware of
your rights at airport security checkpoints.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has mandated that
passengers can opt out of going through a whole body scanning machine in
favor of a physical pat down. Unfortunately, opting for the pat down
requires passengers to be assertive since TSA screeners do not tell
travelers about their right to refuse a scan. Harried passengers must
spot the TSA signs posted at hectic security checkpoints to inform
themselves of their rights before they move to a body scanning security

Since the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight by
a passenger hiding explosives in his underwear, TSA has accelerated its
program of deploying whole body scanning machines, including x-ray
scanners, at airport security checkpoints throughout the United States.
Scanning machines peak beneath passengers' clothing looking for
concealed weapons and explosives that can elude airport metal detectors.
So far, TSA has placed 111 scanners at 32 airports. They expect to have
450 scanners deployed by the end of the year at an estimated cost of
$170,000 each.

Privacy, civil rights and religious groups object to whole body scanning
machines as uniquely intrusive. Naked images of passengers' bodies are
captured by these machines that can reveal very personal medical
conditions such as prosthetics, colostomy bags and mastectomy scars. The
TSA responded by setting the scanners to blur the facial features of
travelers, placing TSA employees who view the images in a separate room
and assuring the public that the images are deleted after initial

Yet, a successful Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the Electronic
Privacy Information Center against the Department of Homeland Security
(DHS) uncovered documents showing that the scanning machines'
procurement specifications include the ability to store, record and
transfer revealing digital images of passengers. The specifications
allow TSA to disable any privacy filters permitting the exporting of raw
images, contrary to TSA assurances.

It begs logic that the TSA would not retain their ability to store
images particularly in the event of a terrorist getting through the scan
and later attacking an aircraft. One of the first searches by the TSA
would be to review images taken by the scanners to identify the

The Amsterdam airport is using a less intrusive security device called
"auto detection" scanning which generates stick figures instead of the
real image of the person and avoids exposing passengers to radiation.
Three United States Senators recently wrote to DHS Secretary Janet
Napolitano urging her to consider these devices. (

More pointedly, security experts, such as Edward Luttwak from the Center
for Strategic and International Studies, have come forward questioning
the effectiveness of whole body scanners since they can be defeated by
hiding explosives in body cavities. The General Accounting Office, an
investigative arm of Congress, has stated that it is unclear whether
scanners would have spotted the kind of explosives carried by the
"Christmas Day" bomber.

About one-half of these body scanning machines use low dose x-rays to
scan passengers. Last May, a group of esteemed scientists from the
University of California, San Francisco wrote to John Holdren, President
Obama's science adviser, voicing their concerns about the rapid roll
out of scanners without a rigorous safety review by an impartial panel
of experts. The scientists caution that the TSA has miscalculated the
radiation dose to the skin from scanners and that there is "good reason
to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to
children and other vulnerable populations." (

David Brenner, director of Columbia University's Center for Radiological
Research, has also voiced caution about x-raying millions of air
travelers. He was a member of the government committee that set the
safety guidelines for the x-ray scanners, and he now says he would not
have signed onto the report had he known that TSA wanted to scan almost
every air traveler. (

Passenger complaints to TSA and newspaper accounts of passenger
experiences with scanners contradict TSA assurances that checkpoint
signs provide adequate notice to travelers about the scanning procedure
and the pat down option. Travelers, who reported that they were not
fully aware what the scanning procedure involved, said they were not
made aware of alternative search options. (

Many travelers complained about their privacy, and their families'
privacy, being invaded. Some were concerned about the radiation risk,
particularly to pregnant women and children. Some travelers felt bullied
by rude TSA screeners. The Wall Street Journal reported that one woman
who refused to go through the body scanner was called "unpatriotic" by
the TSA screener.

Expensive state-of-the-art security technology that poses potentially
serious health risks to vulnerable passengers, invades privacy, and
provides questionable security is neither smart nor safe. For the White
House it is a political embarrassment waiting to happen.

President Obama should suspend the body scanning program and appoint an
independent panel of experts to review the issues of privacy, health and
effectiveness. After such a review, should the DHS and TSA still want
to deploy body scanners at airports, they should initiate a public
rulemaking, which they have refused thus far, so that the public can
have their say in the matter.

If you experience any push-back from TSA screeners when you assert your
right to refuse to go through a whole body scanner and request a pat
down security search instead, please write to

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