The People vs The Full Body Scanners

By Declan McCullagh
Cnet.com

Two months ago, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the federal stimulus legislation would pay for the purchase of hundreds of controversial full-body scanners.

“Through the Recovery Act, we are able to continue our accelerated deployment of enhanced technology as part of our layered approach to security at airports nationwide,” Napolitano said at the time.

Since then, the number of scanners has roughly doubled since Napolitano’s announcement and are now found in 68 U.S. airports, and the Transportation Security Administration says the controversial devices have proven to be a success.

“We have received minimal complaints,” a TSA spokeswoman told CNET yesterday. She said that the agency, part of DHS, keeps track of air traveler complaints and has not seen a significant rise.

A growing number of airline passengers, labor unions, and advocacy groups, however, say the new procedures–a choice of full-body scans or what the TSA delicately calls “enhanced patdowns”–go too far. (They were implemented without much fanfare in late October, amid lingering questions (PDF) about whether travelers are always offered a choice of manual screening.)

Unions representing U.S. Airways pilots, American Airlines pilots, and some flight attendants are advising their members to skip the full-body scans, even if it means that their genitals are touched. Air travelers are speaking out online, with a woman saying in a YouTube video her breasts were “twisted,” and ExpressJet pilot Michael Roberts emerging as an instant hero after he rejected both the body scanning and “enhanced patdowns” options and was unceremoniously ejected from the security line from Memphis International Airport.

One lawsuit has been filed and at least two more are being contemplated. There are snarky suggestions for what TSA actually stands for, attempts at grope-induced erotic fiction, and now even a movie.

These privacy concerns, and in a few cases even outright rebellion, come as an estimated 24 million travelers are expected to fly during the 2010 Thanksgiving holiday season. One Web site, OptOutDay.com, is recommending what might be called strict civil obedience: it suggests that all air travelers on November 24, the day before Thanksgiving, choose “to opt-out of the naked body scanner machines” that amount to “virtual strip searches.”

Normally, that kind of public outcry might be enough to spur TSA to back down–after all, in 2004 it relaxed its metal detector procedures to allow passengers a second try, and a year later it relaxed its rules to allow scissors in carry-on bags. Plus, the U.S. House of Representatives (but not the Senate) approved a bill saying that “whole-body imaging technology may not be used as the sole or primary method of screening a passenger.”

But with a lame duck Congress not even in session until next week, no hearings on full-body scanners currently scheduled, and renewed concerns about explosives in printer cartridges, an immediate reversal seems unlikely.

Instead, TSA is defending its practice. “TSA constantly evaluates and updates screening procedures to stay ahead of evolving threats, and we have done so several times already this year,” a spokeswoman said. “As such, TSA has implemented an enhanced pat down at security checkpoints as one of our many layers of security to keep the traveling public safe.”

“Administrator John Pistole is committed to intelligence-driven security measures, including advanced imaging technology and the pat down procedure and ordered a review of certain policies shortly after taking office to reinforce TSA’s risk-based approach to security,” TSA said. “We look forward to further discussion with pilots on these important issues.”

TSA’s official blogger, who uses the apparent pseudonym Blogger Bob, went so far as to say this week that: “There is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports. You have a professional workforce carrying out procedures they were trained to perform to keep aviation security safe.”

Another possible catalyst for an eventual change in screening procedures is a lawsuit that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit advocacy group, filed against the TSA and Homeland Security last week.

“The agency went off the rails in the spring of 2009 when it decided on its own authority to make body scanners the primary screening technique in the United States,” says Marc Rotenberg, EPIC’s executive director. “We think there had to be a public rulemaking. We think the conduct implicates freedom of religion. We think it implicates the Privacy Act.”

EPIC’s lawsuit is ambitious. It says that TSA should have conducted a formal, 90-day public rulemaking to “fully evaluate all privacy, security, and health risks” and wants the DC Circuit to require the agency to conduct one. In addition, making full-body scanners the primary method of screening violates the Fourth Amendment, the suit says, because the scans are “far more invasive than necessary.”

In September, the DC Circuit shot down EPIC’s initial request for an emergency halt, saying the standards for a preliminary injunction against TSA were not met. Rotenberg remains optimistic, saying “these are obligations that are written into federal law” that TSA must follow. (This time, EPIC is not asking for an emergency injunction.)

The ACLU says it’s also weighing a lawsuit but has not filed one so far.

TSA has “always done pat-downs,” but until recently they haven’t been so aggressive, says Chris Calabrese, legislative counsel at the ACLU in Washington, D.C. “The pat-downs never used to go up a woman’s skirt.”

“It’s become troubling,” Calabrese says. “You’ve got these controversial naked strip search machines that they’re rolling out at airports across America. And if you choose not to go through the naked strip search machine, you’re subject to this (level of intrusive physical contact). It seems punitive. It seems designed to drive you to the naked strip search machine.”

Body scanners penetrate clothing to provide a highly detailed image that TSA says is viewed by a remote technician. Technologies vary, with millimeter wave systems capturing fuzzier images with non-ionizing radio waves and backscatter X-ray machines able to show precise anatomical detail.

TSA says it does not store scans, and there is no evidence indicating the agency does at routine airport checkpoints.

But documents that EPIC obtained show the agency’s procurement specifications require that the machines be capable of storing the images on USB drives. A 70-page document (PDF), classified as “sensitive security information,” says that in a test mode the scanner must “allow exporting of image data in real time” and provide a mechanism for “high-speed transfer of image data” over the network.

Another federal agency, the Marshals Service, has acknowledged (PDF) that tens of thousands of images from a Brijot Gen2 machine were stored from just one courthouse checkpoint.

The Gen 2 machine, manufactured by Brijot of Lake Mary, Fla., uses a millimeter wave radiometer and accompanying video camera to store up to 40,000 images and records. Brijot boasts that it can be operated remotely: “The Gen 2 detection engine capability eliminates the need for constant user observation and local operation for effective monitoring. Using our APIs, instantly connect to your units from a remote location via the Brijot Client interface.”

Meanwhile, the backlash among air travelers will likely continue as more full-body scanners pop up in airports and more travelers are faced with the choice of intrusive scanning or an intrusive pat-down done with someone’s fingers instead of the back of a hand. Body scanners in the Orlando airport were turned on yesterday, for instance, and they’ve appeared at Dulles airport this week as well.

A flotilla of Web sites, including Nudeoscope.com, DontScan.us, and StopDigitalStripSearches.org is hoping to translate that dissatisfaction into political action. The Council on American-Islamic Relations sent out a travel advisory yesterday with special recommendations for Muslim women.

Another line of attack is health concerns: biochemistry faculty members at the University of California at San Francisco have written the White House saying the X-ray “dose to the skin may be dangerously high.” (A response co-authored by FDA and TSA officials dismissed any health risks as “miniscule.”)

“For some reason TSA is rushing these things out,” says Charlie Leocha of the Consumer Travel Alliance. “They haven’t fully studied them. They haven’t tested them. They don’t know if it’ll detect the explosives you’re looking for…We’re at a perfect storm, but will TSA listen to anyone? I don’t know.”

NASA: Solar flares from ‘huge space storm’ will cause devastation

Telegraph

Britain could face widespread power blackouts and be left without critical communication signals for long periods of time, after the earth is hit by a once-in-a-generation “space storm”, Nasa has warned.

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working.

National power grids could overheat and air travel severely disrupted while electronic items, navigation devices and major satellites could stop working after the Sun reaches its maximum power in a few years.

Senior space agency scientists believe the Earth will be hit with unprecedented levels of magnetic energy from solar flares after the Sun wakes “from a deep slumber” sometime around 2013, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

In a new warning, Nasa said the super storm would hit like “a bolt of lightning” and could cause catastrophic consequences for the world’s health, emergency services and national security unless precautions are taken.

Scientists believe it could damage everything from emergency services’ systems, hospital equipment, banking systems and air traffic control devices, through to “everyday” items such as home computers, iPods and Sat Navs.

Due to humans’ heavy reliance on electronic devices, which are sensitive to magnetic energy, the storm could leave a multi-billion pound damage bill and “potentially devastating” problems for governments.

“We know it is coming but we don’t know how bad it is going to be,” Dr Richard Fisher, the director of Nasa’s Heliophysics division, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.

“It will disrupt communication devices such as satellites and car navigations, air travel, the banking system, our computers, everything that is electronic. It will cause major problems for the world.

“Large areas will be without electricity power and to repair that damage will be hard as that takes time.”

Dr Fisher added: “Systems will just not work. The flares change the magnetic field on the earth that is rapid and like a lightning bolt. That is the solar affect.”

A “space weather” conference in Washington DC last week, attended by Nasa scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials, was told of similar warnings.

While scientists have previously told of the dangers of the storm, Dr Fisher’s comments are the most comprehensive warnings from Nasa to date.

Dr Fisher, 69, said the storm, which will cause the Sun to reach temperatures of more than 10,000 F (5500C), occurred only a few times over a person’s life.

Every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots – or flares – hits a maximum level every 11 years.

Dr Fisher, a Nasa scientist for 20 years, said these two events would combine in 2013 to produce huge levels of radiation.

He said large swathes of the world could face being without power for several months, although he admitted that was unlikely.

A more likely scenario was that large areas, including northern Europe and Britain which have “fragile” power grids, would be without power and access to electronic devices for hours, possibly even days.

He said preparations were similar to those in a hurricane season, where authorities knew a problem was imminent but did not know how serious it would be.

“I think the issue is now that modern society is so dependent on electronics, mobile phones and satellites, much more so than the last time this occurred,” he said.

“There is a severe economic impact from this. We take it very seriously. The economic impact could be like a large, major hurricane or storm.”

The National Academy of Sciences warned two years ago that power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications could “all be knocked out by intense solar activity”.

It warned a powerful solar storm could cause “twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina”. That storm devastated New Orleans in 2005 and left an estimated damage bill of more than $125bn (£85bn).

Dr Fisher said precautions could be taken including creating back up systems for hospitals and power grids and allow development on satellite “safe modes”.

“If you know that a hazard is coming … and you have time enough to prepare and take precautions, then you can avoid trouble,” he added.

His division, a department of the Science Mission Directorate at Nasa headquarters in Washington DC, which investigates the Sun’s influence on the earth, uses dozens of satellites to study the threat.

The government has said it was aware of the threat and “contingency plans were in place” to cope with the fall out from such a storm.

These included allowing for certain transformers at the edge of the National Grid to be temporarily switched off and to improve voltage levels throughout the network.

The National Risk Register, established in 2008 to identify different dangers to Britain, also has “comprehensive” plans on how to handle a complete outage of electricity supplies.

Watch Dr. Richard Fisher’s explanation here.

Volcanic Ash Threat in Europe was All a ‘Mistake’, Authorities Say

Once again computer models did the trick for scientists

By Luis R. Miranda
The Real Agenda
April 21, 2010

air travel cancellations

It was not a volcano or its ash what caused major disruptions in air travel for the past several days, but a bunch of flawed computer models scientists used to forecast how the volcanic eruption would affect air travel throughout the European continent. As reported yesterday, other reasons are being looked at to explain why flights were suspended if the famous ash cloud did not reach Europe in the way it was originally described. Today, authorities are blaming defective computer models and not the volcanic eruption.

According to Matthias Ruete, director general for mobility and transport in Europe, the computer models used to make a decision on whether or not the air space would remain open, were flawed due to the fact scientists used incomplete science and limited data. The closure of air space, which caused great disruption in passenger and cargo transport from and to the old continent, stranding thousands of people and amounting to loses of hundreds of millions of dollars per day, does not come as a surprise. Scientists who claim that man causes global warming, also based their calculations and forecasts on flawed, incomplete and dubious data. This was discovered when e-mails and documents from the University of East Anglia were let out on the web.

“It is a black box in certain areas,” Matthias Ruete, said, asserting that the assumptions used in the models were not based on scientific evidence. Apparently, authorities in Europe were not sure about certain issues and questions involving the amount of ash at specific heights and places, how hazardous it would be and the rate at which the ash would fall from the sky. “It’s one of the elements where, as far as I know, we’re not quite clear about it,” he revealed.

As reported yesterday, some airlines even conducted test flights in order to determine whether their planes would be able to withstand the effects of the now confirmed fictitious ash. Companies like KLM, Air France and Lufthansa sent planes up and all indications pointed out that the risk was minimum or none.

It appears that scientists and authorities decided to close air space, and in the process cause grave stress to an economic system that is already shaky. The current levels of outstanding debt many of the companies that revolve around commerce and air travel as well as that of European and other governments provides very little margin of error for this kind of mistakes, however those who oversee air safety did not take that into account when making up their minds about what to do with transatlantic flights.

This computer model errors along with poor judgment still do not explain why if there was any kind of threat to air travel, military planes from European countries and the U.S. maintained and still continue to execute exercises that are part of the Brilliant Ardent 10 program. The admittance of wrongdoing does not explain if and how the Coronal Mass Ejections (CME’s) may have influenced on weather patterns, plate tectonics or volcanic activity. We tried to obtain information from Dr. David H. Hathaway, a NASA scientist and expert in CME, but he has not returned our e-mail. “If you take the situation across the Atlantic, there the advice would probably be: don’t fly over the volcano. Otherwise, it is up to you to take the precautions necessary,” Mr Ruete said. Many people are now calling for the adoption of standards used in the United States, where it is up to the airlines to decide whether it is safe to fly or not. European standards establish that member states have the prerogative to make those decisions, but all decisions made for the past week have been made by computer models, it seems.  Unfortunately, computers cannot be fired.