LoriMT (lorimt) wrote,

Letter sent to my senator re: the TSA

Dear Senator Kerry,

I hear that the Aviation Operations, Safety and Security senate subcommittee is holding a TSA oversight hearing tomorrow [edit: now today - call or write right away if you want them to hear]. Please speak out on behalf of me and your other constituents against the extremely invasive screenings/pat-downs being implemented by the TSA.

I have 3 major objections to the TSA's current procedures: they're unclear, invasive and don't work.

I flew out to Seattle this past weekend, and before I did, I tried my best to do research on the new procedures. All the stories/articles online suggested the TSA could invoke any arbitrary procedures they wanted, invent penalties on the spot and were inclined to use invasive searches as retaliation for anyone who asked questions about the new system. When I went to the TSA website to find out what the actual rules were, I could find almost nothing. There was a partial list of items allowed/disallowed in carry on bags and a few pieces of contact information if I wanted to report bad behavior. There was *no* sign of what screening procedures were in place, what the TSA was allowed to do, or what my rights as a passenger/citizen were. I never found a list of airports using the new invasive screeners, though I hear an out of date one does exist.

As far as invasive goes, I find it completely unacceptable that as a condition of flight I must either submit to an electronic strip search with unverified radiation risks or physical assault in the form of an excessive and retaliatory physical search. My understanding is that the searches used at most prisons are significantly less invasive. I know this sounds inflammatory. That's because I feel very strongly on the issue. I'm not only upset on my own behalf - multiple friends of mine are no longer willing to fly because of actions like these, including ones who've suffered assault in the past and fear being unable to control their reaction. Beyond my personal upset, the
situation appears to be begging for cases of child porn and abuse, completely unverifiable cases of assault under the guise of security, and a high likelihood of naked pictures escaping the machines (though it's claimed this is impossible, it's already happened with the machines in a Florida courthouse. The technology is *far* from invulnerable, despite TSA claims)

In terms of effectiveness, multiple security experts, including Israeli airport security personnel and Bruce Schneier have pointed out that the backscatter machines in particular do not work. They're ineffective even at the specific limited set of cases they're meant to catch. They slow down the security system, divert money from effective terror prevention strategies, and at best lull people into a false sense of security.

Once again, I'm asking you to please speak out, create new directives and pass bills if necessary revising our national airport security systems to rely on effective, proven methods, rather than wasting millions of dollars on offensive invasions of privacy that do nothing to increase our security. Thank you very much for your time.
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Good for you. I emailed my Congressman with a similar message. I have serious doubts whether it will do any good though.
Thanks! By the way - how'd you run across my post?
I did a search on LJ using "TSA". I am upset over this, and have been adding comments all over the internet - all day. I see no valid excuse for using this technology, and I don't like the casual way Napolitano has dismissed the radiation hazard. Plus, the scanners are useless against bombs placed in body cavities - it can't detect them. The real terrorists aren't stupid; they already know it.

Another question I had for my congressman: in view of the London and Madrid railway bombings, why wouldn't the scanners also be 'necessary' at every AMTRAK station? I can just imagine the furor if they installed these on AMTRAK's Northeastern route between New York and Boston. I wonder how all those commuters would like an x-ray dose TWICE a day going to and from work.
Yeah, I'm really not looking forward to flying this holiday season. At least I'm desensitized enough that I can handle the "pat-down" (and hell, if they're going to make it unpleasant to fly, I'm going to make it unpleasant for them to run security). I hate to think what people who have a legitimate fear of sexual harassment (e.g. about 50% of the population) have to deal with.

And anyone who thinks the images from the backscatter scanners aren't saved is deluding themselves. Data, once collected, will be saved by anyone who has an interest and the opportunity. I guarantee there are TSA agents who have the interest in keeping pictures of naked people, and they by definition have the opportunity.
Yeah - I scheduled something like 3 flights before this most recent round. Really not thrilled.


November 19 2010, 18:52:10 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  November 19 2010, 18:52:40 UTC

"and hell, if they're going to make it unpleasant to fly, I'm going to make it unpleasant for them to run security"

I saw a link to someone calling on all males who are flying to wear a kilt with no underwear and demand the physical search this Thanksgiving weekend.

I've actually heard from someone that has hardware in her ankle so has to get the physical patdown that they were extremely invasive in their patdown.


November 17 2010, 08:56:46 UTC 6 years ago Edited:  November 17 2010, 09:22:35 UTC

As someone who has to fly out of San Diego very soon and also has medical imaging training... I looked over the John's Hopkins reports of the radiation emitted from the backscatter scanners and it does in fact look safe to me. The human body is also very good at dealing with these types of low levels of radiation. We have understood radiation for some time now so there are many studies of long-term effects on the body- it's been very well characterized.

(After writing the above I took a look at the letter Frances references- I see their point about the low kVp, but the number they have doesn't match up with the number in the JHU report. The UCSF number, if it is true, is low enough cause concern for the reason they mention. They also have a good point about sensitive populations- while I was writing I was thinking only of risk to myself or other healthy young adults.)

I also looked at the images and I really can't see why anyone would want to save them- there are tons of much better naked pictures of people available to anyone with a computer and and internet connection.

That said, there are many better ways to do airport security and I'm not looking forward to my upcoming flight.
Can you link that report? I've spoken to x-ray scientists who say they don't think the dose is correctly calculated (whole-body dose when they should be also considering skin dose, and they weren't wild about their own back-of-the-envelope skin dose estimates), but it was in a bull-session-type environment and none of us is actually a medical physicist, so I'd be curious to see some numbers.
Thanks. And I found the JHU report (it turns out GIMF), although I won't have time to dig through it until lunch.

But yeah, I would not be at all surprised if they really did only get a kerma measurement and not a flux measurement. I recently had the dubious pleasure of trying to collate flux data for several commercial sources; in all but one case they could only provide me with air kerma, not flux (and forget spectral flux density), and in a couple of cases they couldn't even tell me how far from the source they did their kerma measurements. Or the machine parameters during the test. It is not that frickin' hard to get a flux measurement, people. Less trivial on a poorly-monochromated source, but not. that. hard. Argh.


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There's also a secondary issue of people who fly a [i]lot[/i] getting repeated small doses.

As for why anyone would want to save these images, they're illicit; that alone is reason enough.
Or the poor shlub working for the TSA, sitting next to the thing all day every day. I've heard stories (don't have ref) about baggage screeners who got cancer because their machine was way out of calibration and spewing radiation beyond what the shielding could handle.
Also don't forget the risk to healthy young males of reproductive age. Unlike you, our gonads are at skin depth, and getting the full dose.
Even if sperm is getting a higher dose, the turnover is pretty quick from my understanding.
Well, true, but the sperm has to come from somewhere, and the spermatogenic cells are also located there.
The radiation hazard is only a small concern for me, given that my understanding is actually flying is relatively high exposure already, compared to most non-business exposures. The stuff about variable calibration and so forth is maybe slightly more worrying, but unless I was a pilot flying day-in-and-day-out, I realize the risk there is low.

In terms of the imaging, I've seen two qualities: there're the really bad scans from the Florida machines which got sent out pretty recently. Those are practically non-identifiable, and I can see why they wouldn't phase most people. The ones showing detailed contours are way more sketchy to my mind. Sure, there's *better* porn on the internet. But I'm still not comfortable with that-clear images of *me* floating around, even if it isn't identifiable. It's more a philosophical point than an actual practical-effects one, but it still passes the "not OK" point for me.
I guess I don't personally feel that my body is that remarkable or interesting so I can't imagine why someone would want to save a safety scan image of it. I certainly can think of cases where it might be more of an issue, and I have heard that Britain is thinking about if having these images of children is child porn, which is another point to consider.

Thanks for letting me start a technical discussion in your journal :-)
My understanding is that the "really bad scans" are probably millimeter-wave, which has lower resolution than backscatter X-ray. (It is also non-ionizing, so from a health standpoint much less worrisome as well.)
You were out here? I missed you, nuts.
Right! Damn! I need to get on that "scheduling things with Mudders in Seattle" business, since I'm going to be back in a month or so. Are you around Dec 10-12ish? I'll be in the Capitol Hill area - we should at the least grab coffee or tea somewhere.
I will indeed be around then! Email or Facebook me.
Thanks for reminding me about this. I might send McCain a similar letter.
Glad to - hope you got a chance!
Thank you.
Glad to - this has me really unhappy.