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TSA

by Britney Draper 6 months ago in history
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Opposition paper on TSA strategies for safety.

On September 11th 2001 four American airplanes were hijacked by al-qaeda members, who planned to carry out one of the largest terrorist attack on American soil. Two of the planes flew into the world trade center in New York City. This attack killed almost 3,000 people and injured more than 6,000 others. The third plane crashed into the pentagon, resulting in a partial collapse of the building while the fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to stop the hijackers. Post- 9/11 the fear of future terror attacks was high. In order to keep anything like this from happening again, airports would need to improve their security protocols. One of the security improvements were full-body scanners that were capable of seeing underneath clothing. While the majority of American’s agree with airport body-scanners, others have concerns about them.

In November of 2001, the administrative office of Civil Aviation Security created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in response to 9/11. In 2002 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was founded by then president George W. Bush. The DHS is now the Parent Agency of TSA. TSA agents are the officers that run security checks in American Airports nationwide. It wasn’t until 2007 that airports started using full-body scanners as a security measure that Michael Chertoff, chief of DHS, personally advocated the importance of these machines and their ability to improve air travel safety. Other security upgrades include bomb-sniffing dogs and an air puffer machine TSA calls ‘The explosive trace portal” that is capable of detecting explosive residue on clothing and skin. In addition to the new security checks, airplanes also went through their own security improvements. These include new surveillance system, automatic locking features, and a very secure cockpit locking system. Essentially, the pilot’s cockpit appears to be more secure than fort knocks. Passengers entering that aircraft go through a rigorous and lengthy security check. Prior to 9/11, passengers could bring liquids, Laptops and pocket knives on airplanes. Now, passengers can’t even get fingernail clippers pass TSA agents. New protocols require passengers to remove their shoes and coats, walk through a $150,000 full-body scanner or an “enhanced” pat-down, followed by a passport and ID check, and a vital baggage check. It is these security measures that have made most American’s feel safe on airplanes again. On Christmas day of 2009 TSA stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (aka. The Underwear Bomber), who was on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan (ii). The news went public and American’s never felt more confident in the government’s ability to protect them from terrorists. Of course, some American’s were not as comfortable with the new security upgrades they were forced to endure at airports. The Advanced Imaging technology (AIT) or Rapiscan backscatter scanners caused major legal issues due to their invasion of privacy [ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFO. v. Dept. of Homeland Sec., 653 F. 3d 1 ; EPIC v. TSA, No. 16-1139, on April 7, 2017 ; EPIC v. DHS, 653 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2011)]. This led to TSA removing the machines in 2013 after failing to defend them in a lawsuit. Today, airport full-body scanner still detects and photograph what passengers have on underneath their clothing, however agents are no longer inspecting nude-images. Instead, the machines show agents a generic outline of a passenger’s body that identifies gender and highlights the location of any weapons that maybe concealed on the body. TSA believes the new machines solves the privacy issue many passengers had with the scanners.

When Rapiscan Backscatter full-body scanners were first used in airports there were privacy concerns. Americans were told that these images could see all the dangerous items people could be hiding under their clothing and that these scanners greatly improved air travel safety. But what we weren’t told is that these nearly-nude images were so detailed that TSA agents were able to see sanitary napkins (pads), genitals, nipples, implants, and evidence of mastectomies of every man, woman and child that walked through them. The machines were deployed and used in airports, courthouses and other federal facilities across the nation. TSA claimed that the Rapiscan backscatter scanners were not capable of saving or transmitting images (x). If the scanners were capable of saving and/or transmitting the nude images of passengers it would be a violation on the fourth amendment and the Video Voyeurism Prevention act (xiv). However, in 2010 100 naked body scans were leaked to the public by U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse which proved that these scanners could, in fact, save and transmit images(x,c,d). The courthouse reportedly saved 35,000 images on their own scanners. It was then that a TSA spokesman contradicted his earlier statement by now stating that the machines were capable of recording, saving and transmitting images, but he insisted that by law they had to “and did” disable the recording features before deploying the scanners to American airports. Regardless, DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the TSA violated federal law by installing body scanners in airports as a primary screening procedure without first requesting public comment (xiv). TSA also stated that the full-body scanners were not mandatory and for passengers that choose to opt-out could do so in favor of a pat-down. However, this is not true for passengers that are randomly selected by airport security. Passengers that have been randomly selected for additional screening are required to use Advanced Imaging scanners (backscatter). Passengers who were not randomly selected have a choice to opt-out of the scanners, but they are then subjected to undergo TSA’s new “enhanced” pat-down. The new pat-down procedure allows TSA screeners to use their entire hand during a body search that also includes a pat-down of private areas. Most passengers describe the pat-down as being invasive and humiliating. Which is why it being no surprise that 90% of passengers choose the “less invasive” scanners. Prior to recent rule changes children were subjected to Advance image scanning, too. Many parents felt uncomfortable with this and argued that the detailed images of children were bordering child pornography. As for the enhanced pat-downs, many people believe they violate the Fourth Amendment by subjecting individuals to unwarranted and sometime non-consensual pat-downs. Outside of the airport, the courts would rule these types of pat-downs as sexual assault. Aside from the privacy conflict, many people worry about the potential health risks body scanners may pose.

There have been concerns that the scanners used in airports could cause cancer as well as damage to the skin and eyes. To better understand the potential health risks the backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners pose, we must first understand the machines themselves. Backscatter scanners use ionizing radiation at a lower level than medical grade chest x-rays that penetrates clothing and reflects off skin. This means that the skin is taking a concentrated level of radiation. After TSA re-analyzed the radiation levels of body scanners that were currently in-use at airports, they admitted that due to a “calculation error” the scanners were giving off radiation levels 10 times higher than expected (aa.). Columbia University radiology researcher, David Brenner, performed testing on the scanner and concluded that 1 out of 10 million people a year could develop cancer due to these scanners (v). In 2016 TSA reportedly scanned approximately 738 million passengers that year. Thus, every year an estimated 73.8 cancer diagnoses would be from exposure to airport scanners. In 2010 AJ Castilla, President of Local 2617 in Boston, MA, sent emails to Mary Leftridge (Federal Security Director) and Heather Callahan (DFSD covering health and safety issues for Boston Airports) regarding the increasing cases of cancer diagnoses among Transportation Security operators. These emails were released during a lawsuit [EPIC V DHS] under the FOIA. EPIC also requested under FOIA that TSA release the assessment of radiation report preformed on the backscatter scanners. Unfortunately, the documentation released by TSA were heavily censored. The documents did, however, indicate that DHS falsely claimed that the National Institute of Standards and Technology declared the scanners to be safe. NIST disputed the reports by issuing a statement disclosing that they did not test the devices (vi). Prior to the removal of backscatters from American airports, TSA would not allow independent studies to be performed on the machines. The little bit of information researchers had on the machines came from TSA themselves and therefore made it nearly impossible for researches to perform accurate testing. After the scanners were removed, researchers were able to perform their own tests on the scanners. Researchers found that the radiation levels TSA had reported on the backscatters were very conservative. Independent studies uncovered that the backscatter scanners were giving off radiation levels that go beyond the general public dose limit. The newer Millimeter-wave scanners use a non-ionizing radiation called electromagnetic radiation. These waves fall between radio and infrared waves. The scanner works by projecting extremely high frequency microwave radiation that reflects off the body and generates a high quality 3D photo of the body in 2 to 3 seconds with blurred facial features for privacy reasons. The DHS fact sheet states that the energy protruding from MW scanners are 1,000 times less than a cell phone transmission. Fact and figures provided by HERCA (Heads of the European Radiological Protection Competent Authorities-xxii) on Millimeter-wave scanners concluded that “It is not clear though if these waves have an adverse effect on the skin of the body itself: conclusive reports on this issue are not available yet. “The HERCA report also noted that the machine would require a well-trained operator to run it. A machine is only as accurate as the person operating it. That being said, let’s take a look at the requirements are for a Transportation Security operator/screener(TSO). As specified on the Transportation Security Administration website the job requires a person to be 18 years and older, a U.S citizen, HS diploma or GED and pass a background check. Once hired screeners need to complete one month of in-class job training. The training consists of learning the 6 standard operating procedures 1. Checkpoint 2. Travel Document checker 3. Advanced Imaging Technology 4. Pre-check 5. Managed inclusion and 6. Checked Baggage (xxiv). However, TSA plans to shorten the training period by the end of 2017 to five training days under their new MAP program for new hires (xxx p.63). Since the job does not require TSO’s to carry a degree in radiology, science or mathematics, it is safe to assume that the scanners TSA is asking passengers to stand inside are not being ran by professionals. Thus increasing the risk of a scanner malfunctioning or being incorrectly calculated that could result in over exposure. Although DHS claims their Advanced Imaging technology scanners are safe for the public, they don’t specify the difference between concentrated energy being directly beamed into the surface of our skin (via scanner), and the non-targeted energy flowing in all different directions from our surroundings. More importantly, they don’t specify how much security “we the people” are actually receiving in exchange for our privacy and health.

When TSA tells the public that that the Millimeter-wave and AIT scanners that are currently being used in American airports are capable of detecting objects that have been concealed under clothing- They are creating a fundamental misunderstanding of these scanners and fabricated this false sense of security to the American people. While both scanners can see underneath clothing, neither of the scanners are capable of detecting objects concealed inside a body cavity. They also seem to have trouble seeing through loose fitting clothing, turbans and burkas. During a test administered by DHS, one undercover agent was able to pass through the scanner with a handgun concealed in his underwear. Ron Johnson, who is the Senate Homeland Security Chairman, believes passengers should have to pass through a metal detector following the full-body scanners because “these things aren’t even detecting metal.”(v) Over the years DHS has orchestrated a number of airport security investigations in an attempt to discover weaknesses and make improvements. The tests are performed by a team of undercover agents DHS calls the “red-team” that attempt to smuggle fake weapons, explosives, and contrabands pass airport security. In 2006, DHS reported that Airport security failed 60% of the time at Chicago O’Hare and 75% at Los Angeles International. In 2015, DHS conducted a total of 70 tests of which TSA failed 67. That’s roughly a 96% failure rating. DHS carried out additional testing shortly after their 2015 investigation and later issued this statement - "the test results were disappointing and troubling. ... The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error. We found layers of security simply missing." On November 9th, 2017 the Department of Homeland security administered yet another investigation and although the numbers have not yet been released to the public, U.S. Congress has described the results as “disturbing”. Germany reported a 54% false-positive rate among millimeter-wave scanners. A team of researchers from the University of Michigan, U.C. San Diego and John Hopkins University did a study in 2014 and discovered that the scanners could be easily deceived by anyone with knowledge on how these scanners worked. They demonstrated multiple places on the body that someone could conceal a weapon or explosive without the scanners detecting them. Over the last fourteen years DHS and TSA have been working together to identify and correct weakness in the scanners. In spite of years of improvements and upgrades, little progress has been made keeping weapons, explosives and contrabands off U.S. aircrafts. What’s more, DHS continues to spend millions of dollars on these scanners, despite poor performance ratings.

While the scanners themselves only cost $150,000 apiece, the totally annual cost cannot be determined by simply multiplying the cost per scanner by the total number of scanners purchased. There are multiple underlying cost-factors associated with AIT scanners. Some of the additional costs include maintenance fees, installation fees, testing fees, utility bill to power the scanners, privacy software and operating fees. Another cost to consider is the amount paid-out in settlements and court fees from the lawsuits that resulted from full-body scanners. According to DHS’s FY2018 budget, TSA budgeted $1.8 million towards settlements (p.114). Throughout the years, TSA has been hit with numerous lawsuits over the controversial full-body scanners, including an ongoing suit filed by EPIC. Recently TSA was ordered by U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to release a final rulemaking on the use of AIT scanners. The Federal Registry released the final ruling in May of 2016. In the ruling TSA was asked to estimate the total cost spent from 2008-2017 on AIT scanners over a 10-year span. TSA estimated the total cost for AIT scanners at $2146.31 million. That’s roughly $215 million a year for the last ten years. By 2018, TSA plans to deploy 157 more AIT scanners to smaller airports resulting in a $23.3 million increase to the budget (FY2018 p.51, 311,313). Here’s another way to look at it, in 2015 TSA spent hundreds of millions of tax payer’s dollars on AIT scanners that only made air travelers 4% safer.

Despite their obvious flaws, American’s still believe that full-body scanners are worth their privacy, their health and their money. Prior to writing this paper, I too, believed airports should have full-body scanners. However, after comparing the cost and success rate VS privacy invasion and potential health risks, it is very clear to see that the benefits do not out way the cost. Therefore, Airports should not have full-body scanners - especially if TSA isn’t willing to disclose all details about the full-body scanners to the American people.

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About the author

Britney Draper

I started this account to share all my old college papers. I figure, what goods a paper if I'm the only one that reads it? I enjoy writing. Maybe you'll enjoy my writing too.

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