Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Crock of Shit That is TSA Full Body Scanning

Seems like there is a shit storm brewing about the full body scanners being implemented by TSA. Good! I fly frequently and TSA is not security, it is security theater. The hoops they make you jump through to get on a plane continue to increase and are more and more absurd.

Full body scanners are just the latest in a list of ridiculousness. Here are some example images that full body scanners produce. OK, so if these scanners can "see" under your clothes, isn't that good? Won't that help catch bombers? Well, there are several issues, not the least of which are health and privacy.

There are two main types of full body scanner. One uses X-rays while the other uses lower-energy millimetre wavelengths. X-rays are hazardous; they can cause damage to DNA that subsequently leads to cancer. The machines are supposedly safe because the total dose that someone receives during a scan is tiny. But earlier this year a group of scientists at the University of California raised a number of concerns over X-ray scanners. They said the X-rays they use are low energy to ensure they bounce only off skin rather than passing through the body, to produce an image focused on objects concealed beneath clothes. This means that the entire dose that the person being scanned receives is concentrated on the skin rather than spread throughout their body. That could mean the skin receives a dose that is one or two orders of magnitude more than expected. To many observers, the response of the US Food and Drug Administration failed to properly address these concerns.

You can choose to opt out of being scanned and instead be frisked. In the US, one group is hoping to highlight the controversy over full body scanners by encouraging everyone travelling on 24 November to elect to be frisked. Since I fly frequently, I will likely refuse the body scanner and opt for a pat down. Who knows, I might even enjoy the pat down (unlikely)!

The privacy issues are also of concern. The US Transportation Security Administration admits that the scanners have the ability to store and print images. But it says this capability is used only when the machines are tested and is switched off at all other times. Right, like I believe this is not an issue. Now nobody is likely to want to peer at an image of my far carcass, but does anyone really believe for a second that every one of those low level TSA grunts is beyond turning on the save option when an attractive specimen wanders through security? And even if it is difficult to turn on the save capability, what's stopping them from using a cell phone camera to take a picture of the image?

At any rate, the whole shebang is crazy. What is needed at airports is trained detectives who can spot high risk folks and send them through additional screening, while letting others pass through without this added crap. That means letting me keep my shoes on and my bottle of shaving cream in the bag!

The safest airline is El Al and they don't scan everyone or make everyone do stupid, useless things like take off their shoes or belts. It is because they are trained police folks who understand how to spot security risks... and then focus their efforts there instead of making Granny get out of her wheel chair or patting down a 12 year old.

By the way, I was in Europe a couple weeks ago and I didn't have to take off my shoes over there. Just take my laptop out of its bag, metal items out of pockets, and go through the metal detector. And everybody safely flew... We have lost our minds over here... We truly have.



Well, csm, you are starting to sound a little libertarian.

My worry is where this is going to end. In Saudi Arabia in 2009, an Islamic militant who professed a desire to change his ways, was presented to a Saudi prince in charge of a government program charged with rehabilitating extreme militants through religious re-education. Unbeknownst to the Saudi prince, the militant had an IED inserted into his rectum. When the bomb was detonated it obviously killed the militant and only slightly injured the prince, but you can see where this is going.

If Islamic extremists, or any extremists, for that matter, perfect this type of "delivery system" and especially if they are successful in an attack such as the Christmas aircraft bombing, what kinds of atrocities are the traveling public going to have to endure just to get away for some leisure time? Strip searches? Cavity checks?

My wife and I have plans for the end of January to go to Puerto Vallarta and I have been toying with ideas to thumb my nose at these new "procedures". I could paint a big star on my Buddha belly and do a little dance in the tiny X-ray room. I could put a little "extension" on my Johnson(but that would probably get me the groping anyway). I have been giving this a little thought, but alas, I probably won't do anything out of the ordinary, because if I do anything which keeps me off the plane, my wife, who in situations like this, I would fear as much as the federal government, would kill me as we are going for our 28th anniversary. Ah, such is life.

csm said...

But you could probably sell DVD recordings of the Buddha belly dance... And charge extra for whatever lunacy is attached to your Johnson (a star of David? A tiny bobble head GWB? The possibilities are endless!)

Craig S Mullins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
csm said...

I have a solution for this. All we need is a machine that detects explosives and automatically ignites anything it finds. Of course, the machine must contain the blast within it so nobody else is hurt. If everyone had to go thru that before flying that would work for me...



I have started to get e-mails(which I asked for)from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and wanted to run something by you.

In an article from them,"The Case Against COICA", I found it interesting the efforts our federal government is taking to try to regulate the Internet even beyond net neutrality. What is your take on these efforts.

I have to confess, after one of your extended absences here you posted with your full name and to be honest, I Goggled it. I know you are greatly involved in the technology world and in my less tech savvy world, I would consider you to be more of an expert than I.

I am sure you could guess how I would fall on these matters, but would sincerely like to know where you stand on the federal government(mainly the FCC)and the Internet.

verification word: freac(a form of freak?)

csm said...

Sorry for the delay in responding. Real life - and then the holidays - got in the way of keeping up with this little blog.

Regarding regulation of the Internet, I think that it is rather like trying to nail Jello to the wall. Shut something down here and it pops up over there. But this is a BIG issue. There are nuances here.

One issue, is net neutrality, which, if it can be legislated and enforced, is a good thing. If I pay $X and you pay $X then we should get similar service without having any capabilities or offerings blocked. For example, Comcast should not be able to stop (or slow down) my viewing of DirectTV content.

Perhaps a more apt example would be an ISP slowing peer-to-peer communications. For example, if I am downloading bit torrents and thereby slowing down others in my neighborhood should the ISP be able to throttle my download speed? This probably boils down to contract terms - does the ISP indicate that it will do that or does it put limits on the amount of data you can download monthly? But who reads those things? And do most folks even know how to check what their upload/download speed is?

On other issues, I think the federal government really should butt out of trying to regulate the Internet - especially in terms of content. It is a free speech issue I think, and therefore there really should be no limits or conditions on the type of content that should be "legal" on the Internet. Is that what you were getting at? What type of controls are you hearing about, Bawdy?

csm said...

Bawdy, here is a link to an article on net neutrality and why it is not as simple as anti- or pro-government.


I find it interesting the article never mentioned anti-trust. He used the word monopoly, but never anti-trust. This is the same beef I have with the left and huge financial services corps; they never bring up anti-trust laws. I have even asked some lefties(I think on this site too, years ago), if these corps are "too big to fail", why didn't we use anti-trust laws to bring back some semblance of competition. We fuckin' bailed them out but did nothing to make further bailouts impossible and anti-trust never came up in the conversation. I am still on record as believing Glass-Steagle should have been re-instituted after the bailout debacle. I am no friend to the huge international corps, unlike most of my conservative brethren.

I know why Democrats like Wall Street; that is where the money is and money wins elections. Just ask Obama's new Chief of Staff.

So my question now to you is, wouldn't a healthy dose of competition help solve this problem and couldn't anti-trust get us there? As you know I trust the federal government as much or less than huge corps(corps motivations are logical and easily understood though maybe detrimental to society at large; the same cannot be said for the federal government).

csm said...

Well, Bawdy, I am all for healthy competition. But I am not convinced we'll get it. Just look at the recent decision to allow Comcast to acquire NBC. Instead of more competition we are getting less. Which, I think, speaks to your point. The government is letting us down by allowing these types of huge "mergers" to go through.

And, by the way, I agree with you about breaking up the banks. When a corporation is deemed to be "too big to fail" it is IMHO "too big to exist" and remedies need to be enacted.