Category: Technology

Backscatter Bullshit

…or, if you’d like, “My Argument Against the TSA’s Advanced Imaging Technology and ‘Enhanced’ Pat Downs.'”

Recently, there has been a slight increase in the outrage regarding the TSA’s security policies at various airports across the country. The current policy, as far as I understand it, is as follows: At airports with the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), you may be randomly selected to use one of the machines, or may be told to use one if you set off the metal detector. You may, if you want, opt-out and instead get a pat down. However, so many people were opting out of the AIT that you now get an “enhanced” pat down, in which women’s breasts will be touched, and both men and women will have their thighs felt until the screener meets “resistance” which is touching the testicles of a man and the labia of a woman. Children were subject to this as well, but recently the TSA has stated that “modifed” pat downs will be used for children under 12. (More on this later.) You may request to be taken to a private room for the “enhanced” pat down, and also bring a friend if you wish. If you opt-out of the AIT and also decline the “enhanced” pat down, you will be asked to leave the airport and may be threatened with a $10,000 lawsuit. (It is apparently illegal to leave the TSA checkpoint without fully complying with either the AIT or the pat down if they request it.)

Now, I am against the use of the AIT scanners as well as the “enhanced” pat downs. In this post I will outline the multiple reasons I have for being against these measures, put forward what I would request the TSA do instead, and provide you with information on what you can do to help the cause if you so choose.

1. Health Risks

The TSA claims that the two varieties of the AIT, Backscatter X-ray and Millimeter Wave, do not pose any health risks to travelers. This is backed up by studies done by organizations such as the FDA and NIST. However, many scientists have since come forward and raised doubts about these claims. At any rate, there are some things we do know. First, that no amount of X-ray radiation is “good” for you. And second, due to the nature of the devices (being used for security purposes), we are unable to get the details on how much radiation they actually do emit, and are hence unable to do independent testing.

2. The 4th Amendment and Privacy

The text of the 4th Amendment of our Constitution is as follows (emphasis mine):

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In other words, you cannot search someone unreasonably unless you have probable cause that they have done or are trying to do something illegal. A policeman cannot just ask you to show him whatever is in your purse or backpack. A policeman cannot just walk into your house and walk around. A policeman cannot search your vehicle. None of those things without a warrant, and you cannot get a warrant unless you convince a judge there is reason to get one.

Yet it is quite obvious that buying a plane ticket and wanting to take a flight does not provide sufficient reason to assume you will try to do something illegal. So at this point they do not have a legal right to perform unreasonable searches. But are the searches unreasonable?

Well, you would (I assume) wholeheartedly agree that making you strip naked would be unreasonable. And while the current-generation Millimeter Wave AIT has somewhat low resolution (as evidenced by the leaked images that the TSA promised cannot be stored, printed, transmitted or saved), the Backscatter X-ray AIT has a much higher resolution. These machines are effectively giving you a virtual strip search. (And again, we cannot trust the TSA’s claims that the images will not be saved, allowing them to be potentially leaked.)

The “enhanced” pat downs also fall into this category of unreasonable searches. What is more unreasonable than someone touching your genitalia? The TSA quizzically reminds us that “you can always request to be screened in a private area,” apparently completely ignoring the issue at hand. I don’t think anyone cares if they are patted down in private or in public — the issue is the extreme nature of the pat down. Now you have to tell your children that they shouldn’t let anyone touch their private parts… unless they are wearing a uniform.

I would also argue that such a pat down or the AIT imaging is much less reasonable than having your backpack or car searched, but those things are most certainly not allowed without a warrant. Seems pretty clear to me that these airport screenings are unconstitutional.

3. Security Theater

Okay, you may now be thinking to yourself “alright, maybe the AIT machines pose health risks, and maybe our privacy is being — perhaps even unconstitutionally — invaded by these practices, but don’t they make us safer?” I think now would be a good a time as any to pass on these words of wisdom from one of our founding fathers, Ben Franklin: “Those who would give up Essentially Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

But let’s address this concern on a more practical level. Bruce Schneier, a cryptology expert and security consultant, refers to the TSA’s methods as “security theater.” This is because they are just a show put on to make people feel as though the government is doing something to make them safer, when in reality the methods do not do so. He says that these methods “won’t catch anybody,” and that if the terrorist is from a well-funded group like Al-Qaeda, “nothing can be done” to stop them.

Why is this? Well, let’s think about what these machines and pat downs cannot detect. They cannot detect anything within the body. So if there was a something stuck up a guy’s ass, or surgically implanted in a woman’s breasts, no dice. And remember what I said about children under 12 being subject to a “modified” pat down? Well, doesn’t that prove it right there, that this is security theater? We know terrorists are not against using children in their plots. The reason the TSA has backtracked on this issue is because they are worried that public outrage will grow so much (after seeing videos like this) that they will be out of the job.

Not convinced by some computer nerd? How about the former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority? The airport in Tel Aviv has some of the toughest security in the world, and they do not have these machines. He calls them “useless” and says that he could “overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.” The Israelis use behavioral screening rather than AIT machines to improve security.

You should be convinced by now that these machines are nothing but show, but if not, consider this: the TSA has never caught anyone with them. They might say they aren’t allowed to divulge such facts, but that is (as Bruce Schneier says) bullshit. With all the horrible PR they have been getting, they would jump at the chance to show they’re actually effective. And this is the story of the life of airport security. We didn’t stop the 9/11 hijackers, so we started banning stuff. We didn’t stop the shoe bomber, so now we take off our shoes. We didn’t stop the underwear bomber. We are always one step behind, and that is because our methods are just for show and do not provide any real security that a determined terrorist could not overcome.

4. My damn paranoia 🙂

If you aren’t against these things yet, allow me make a final push by barraging you with some paranoia built up from reading a lot of blogs and dystopian fiction!

Do you want to know what I think they could be trying to do with these machines? Getting us ready for them to be put elsewhere. I mean, these things aren’t at train stations or subway stations. Why is that? Since they are used for domestic flights at airports we are assuming the terrorists are already in the country. Does nobody think they will just skip the plane and try the bus, train, or subway instead? They aren’t putting them everywhere because they are expensive (why waste the money on something you know doesn’t work) and because a little too much invasion might ruin the whole endeavor, causing a public backlash.

I’ve already talked about cameras being put everywhere. Do you know that the powers that be are trying to introduce new “security” measures that the public has not yet seen? At my place of employment I saw retinal scanners being demonstrated. This would be a better way of identifying people than fingerprints because they can be used from a distance. Think Minority Report. But do you know what’s stopping them? It isn’t so much the technology as it is the public backlash. They admitted people do not like these things. Well, how do you get people to like them? You force people to use similar measures like what the TSA is doing, and get them used to it. Over time, being used to less privacy will quell the fire that would be shown today.

Alright, if you aren’t already convinced you probably never will be. If this is the case, you better leave a comment and say why, dammit! 🙂

Now, what would I like to see done by the TSA?

  1. Stop the use of the AIT machines
  2. Stop the enhanced pat downs
  3. Implement behavioral screening from trained law enforcement officers (TSA officers are really just rent-a-cops), like we have at our borders

And finally, if you’re interested, what can you do?

Well first, Ron Paul has introduced new legislation in the form of HR 6416 that would stop all of this quite assuredly. If you want to read the bill, it is very short:

“No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual’s body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual’s parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.”

Please call your Representative and tell them to support this bill! I will be doing so, perhaps today. (I gotta figure out how that works first. Never have called in for anything before.)

Second, you can sign this online petition to stop the scans.

Finally, you can participate in National Opt-Out day. It is officially November 24th, but any time you go to the airport you can opt to not get the full body scan. Do this to show people that it is possible to step up for your freedoms! And if you want extra credit, when you get the enhanced pat down, make some loud sexual noises to make the TSA scumbag uncomfortable. If anybody looks at you funny, recommend that they get a pat down from that agent, as they give a good rub!

I greatly appreciate your support on this issue. Feel free to share this post on facebook or twitter, email it to your friends and family, or just be a voice for freedom and privacy in your daily lives with the knowledge you have gained. If you don’t want to associate yourself or this message with my other posts, I do not mind if you just copy/paste the text into an email or something and send that. I just want the word out.

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂

Open source rocks

Soapbox time, baby. I could probably rant about this for eternity, so I’ll try to keep it short.

Open source software kicks the crap out of proprietary software.

What is open source software? It’s software that you can not only run, but easily modify, because you are given what is called the program’s source code, which is the set of instructions that make the program run… more or less 🙂

What are some examples of open source software? Let’s see… the one you are probably using right now is your web browser. Firefox is open source. (If you like open source and use Chrome, try Chromium. I’m actually using it right now!) If you use the Pidgin instant messaging client, you’re also using open source. Open Office is an open source alternative to Microsoft Word. Another widely-used example is the Linux operating system (Red Hat, Ubuntu, Debian, etc.). There are millions more programs out there for just about anything you want to do!

Alright, so it’s not so crazy to use open source. What’s so good about it?

Well, first off, it’s free. To be “open source” you have to provide the source code, and the source code can be used to make the program, so the program is free! Nice, huh?

Second, you can modify it. Say you don’t like the color of a certain button, or you want it to do something slightly differently. No problem, if you know how to program (and you can learn) then you can make it do what you want. If there’s a bug, you can fix it. If there’s a security hole, you can fill it. (That’s what she said?)

Third, you know what it’s doing. Ever worry that maybe Google Chrome is sending all of your usage data to Google for them to “not be evil” with? Well sorry buddy, you’ll have to take their word on it. Oh, you trust Google? Alright then, well do you trust Microsoft? That’s better, I didn’t think so. How do you know Microsoft isn’t monitoring everything you’re doing? It’s not open source, so you don’t. With open source, you can guarantee that a program only does what you want it to do.

You may be wondering how open source makes people money. I mean, people aren’t making these programs for free, are they?

Well, you’d be surprised. Linux was actually created by some Finnish dude, and given away for free. Think anyone ever paid a dime for Firefox? Nope.

In many cases, open source doesn’t make anyone money. People make software for the sake of making something people can use for free. Open source programmers are really nice people as you can imagine. (I’ll write more on this in a future post.)

But if you really want to make money on open source, you can. Red Hat, the most popular Linux distribution, actually makes a lot of money. You see, Red Hat sells support to companies that use Red Hat. If they have problems, they can call Red Hat get help. And that isn’t free.

So, now that you know a little more about open source software, why not try using some? Already have Firefox? Try looking for something else to use, like Open Office. It’s free, so there’s not really any risk! If you really want to take the jump, make an Ubuntu Live CD and try it out. You don’t have to install anything, it just runs off the CD!

Doesn’t open source just sound like a great idea?

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂