FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Losing It at the Airport Checkpoint

by RALPH NADER

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 line.

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 viewing.

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 attacker.

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 info@csrl.org.

RALPH NADER is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.

 

WORDS THAT STICK

 

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
Daniel Kovalik
Colombia: Peace in the Shadow of the Death Squads
Sam Husseini
How the Washington Post Sells the Politics of Fear
Ramzy Baroud
Punishing the Messenger: Israel’s War on NGOs Takes a Worrying Turn
Norman Pollack
Troglodyte Vs. Goebbelean Fascism: The 2016 Presidential Race
Simon Wood
Where are the Child Victims of the West?
Roseangela Hartford
The Hidden Homeless Population
Mark Weisbrot
Obama’s Campaign for TPP Could Drag Down the Democrats
Rick Sterling
Clintonites Prepare for War on Syria
Yves Engler
The Anti-Semitism Smear Against Canadian Greens
August 24, 2016
John Pilger
Provoking Nuclear War by Media
Jonathan Cook
The Birth of Agro-Resistance in Palestine
Eric Draitser
Ajamu Baraka, “Uncle Tom,” and the Pathology of White Liberal Racism
Jack Rasmus
Greek Debt and the New Financial Imperialism
Robert Fisk
The Sultan’s Hit List Grows, as Turkey Prepares to Enter Syria
Abubakar N. Kasim
What Did the Olympics Really Do for Humanity?
Renee Parsons
Obamacare Supporters Oppose ColoradoCare
Alycee Lane
The Trump Campaign: a White Revolt Against ‘Neoliberal Multiculturalism’
Edward Hunt
Maintaining U.S. Dominance in the Pacific
George Wuerthner
The Big Fish Kill on the Yellowstone
Jesse Jackson
Democrats Shouldn’t Get a Blank Check From Black Voters
Kent Paterson
Saving Southern New Mexico from the Next Big Flood
Arnold August
RIP Jean-Guy Allard: A Model for Progressive Journalists Working in the Capitalist System
August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail