Focusing public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues

Comment on the TSA Nude Body Scanner Proposal

Following a court mandate in EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is currently soliciting public comments on its airport nude body scanners. The court mandate was in response to EPIC's lawsuit in EPIC v. DHS, where EPIC successfully challenged the TSA's unlawful deployment of airport body scanners. The TSA will accept comments until June 24, 2013.

COMMENT NOW - express your views on the TSA Body Scanner program:
  • Describe the devices as "Nude Body Scanners."
  • Support "Regulatory Alternative #3."
  • Support the right of passengers to opt out and demand generic image filters
  • Describe any personal experiences
Then:
  • Post the link on Facebook
  • Tweet the link
  • Urge your friends to comment

Top News

  • Security Experts: EPIC Correct About Body Scanners-Invasive and Ineffective: The first independent analysis of backscatter x-ray body scanners corroborate the claims EPIC and others have made for several years: The scanners are invasive and ineffective. In a detailed report published in 2005, EPIC warned that the x-ray body scanners amounted to a virtual strip search and were an ineffective means of airport security. Freedom of Information Act documents later obtained by EPIC revealed that TSA could disable the body scanner's privacy settings, the nude images could be stored on the machines, and the scanners ran on a standard operating system making them vulnerable to outside security threats. EPIC and a coalition of civil liberties organizations then petitioned DHS Secretary Napolitano to suspend the program. When the DHS failed to do so, EPIC sued the agency. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in EPIC v. DHS that the agency must begin a public rule making. The backscatter X-ray scanners were subsequently removed from US airports. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program) and EPIC: Whole Body Imaging Technology. (Aug. 22, 2014)
  • Homeland Security Revised Traveler Screening Violates Federal Privacy Act: The Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection, components of the Department of Homeland Security, have announced plans for agency record disclosures without Privacy Act notifications. The agencies Common Operating Picture ("COP") program would permit TSA and CBP to exchange personal information held by the agencies to place travelers on federal watch lists. Although TSA and CBP have proposed new uses for personal data, the agencies have declined to solicit public comments as required by the Privacy Act. Currently, the agencies use the Automated Targeting System to perform "risk assessments." EPIC has called for DHS to suspend "risk-based" passenger profiling and to make public the algorithms that are used to assess travelers. For more information, see EPIC: Secure Flight, EPIC: Passenger Profiling, and EPIC: Air Travel Privacy. (Feb. 10, 2014)
  • Government Audit Finds TSA's Behavioral Analysis Program "Ineffective": The Government Accountability Office issued a report to Congress finding that the Transportation Security Administration's behavioral analysis program, known as "Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques" (SPOT), is ineffective. The GAO determined that there is no scientifically valid evidence for behavior indicators, and that TSA screeners cannot reliably interpret passenger behavior. The GAO report also notes that the there have been significant concerns over racial and ethnic profiling. There are around 3,000 TSA officers currently assigned to the SPOT program, which has cost approximately $900 million since 2007. The GAO recommended the Congress reduce further funding of the program. In testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2003, EPIC warned that "It is easy to construct a device that can determine whether a person is carrying a gun before he boards an airplane. It is much more difficult to construct a device that can probe his thoughts and determine his intent to commit a crime." Since that time, EPIC has objected to the DHS's practice of assigning threat profiles based on race, ethnicity, and gender. EPIC has also called upon the TSA to undertake a comprehensive audit of the civil rights impact of airport screening policies on racial and religious minorities. For more information, see EPIC: Passenger Profiling. (Nov. 14, 2013)
  • EPIC Objects to Secret Profiling of Air Travelers: EPIC has submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security, objecting to the agency's plan to secretly profile U.S. air travelers and remove Privacy Act safeguards. The DHS proposed to exempt TSA PreCheck from the federal privacy law. The PreCheck database contains detailed personal information, including name, birthdate, biometric information, Social Security Number, and financial information. The TSA plans to release applicant data to federal, state, tribal, local, territorial agencies and foreign governments. However, the TSA proposes to remove the rights of PreCheck applications concerning notification, access, and correction. The agency also intends to keep secret the basis for approving PreCheck applicants. EPIC described the substantial privacy and security risks of Precheck, urged the DHS to narrow the Privacy Act exemptions, and recommended that the DHS withdraw routine use disclosures. For more information, see EPIC: Secure Flight, EPIC: Passenger Profiling, and EPIC: Air Travel Privacy. (Oct. 10, 2013)
  • EPIC Appeals Secrecy of Body Scanner Radiation Documents: EPIC has challenged a District Court decision which allowed two federal agencies to withhold documents about airport body scanners, including test results, fact sheets, and estimates regarding radiation risks. In the opening brief to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, EPIC argues that federal agencies may not withhold factual information under the "deliberative process privilege" in the Freedom of Information Act. EPIC said that under "under the standard adopted by the lower court, not only would the judgement of agency officials be exempt, but so too would reports or studies of any significance." For more information, see EPIC: DHS Body Scanner FOIA Appeal, EPIC v. DHS and EPIC v. TSA. (Oct. 3, 2013)
  • TSA Seeks to Remove Privacy Act Safeguards for TSA PreCheck: The TSA has proposed to exempt a new TSA PreCheck database from important Privacy Act safeguards. TSA PreCheck allow the federal agency to grant expedited screening to certain travelers. The TSA PreCheck database contains personally identifiable information, including name, birthdate, biometric information, Social Security Number, and financial information. The TSA proposes to disclose TSA PreCheck applicant information to federal, state, tribal, local, territorial, and foreign governmental agencies. The TSA also proposes to exempt these records from the notification, access, and amendment provisions of the federal Privacy Act, the primary law that protects personal information held by the federal government. EPIC has previously testified before Congress that traveler screening procedures should follow all Privacy Act requirements. Comments on the proposed exemptions are due October 11, 2013. (Sep. 18, 2013)
  • TSA Conducts Warrantless Searches Outside of Airports: The Transportation Security Administration has expanded its Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program to perform warrantless searches at various locations, including festivals, sporting events, and bus stations. The VIPR program uses "risk-based" profiling and "behavior detection" to search and detain individuals. Members of Congress have opposed these searches, and the GAO has questioned the validity of TSA's behavior detection and dispelled behavior detection effectiveness. Last year, EPIC prevailed in a lawsuit against the TSA that revealed the agency's plan to deploy body scanners outside of the airport at bus stations, train stations, and elsewhere. For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Mobile Body Scanners FOIA Lawsuit). (Aug. 8, 2013)
  • EPIC Urges Federal Government to Stop Virtual Strip Searches in US Airports: EPIC has submitted extensive comments opposing the TSA's decision to deploy body scanners in US airports. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals forced TSA to accept public comment on the controversial screening program following EPIC's lawsuit in EPIC v. DHS. In that case, EPIC successfully challenged the TSA's unlawful deployment of the body scanners which rendered images of air travelers stripped naked. More than 5,000 comments were submitted by the public, many on behalf of organizations and associations, and almost all opposed the agency's decision. EPIC's comments described the lack of adequate privacy safeguards for the backscatter x-ray scanners, the ineffectiveness of the devices, and the potential health risks to travelers. EPIC urged the agency to end the body scanner program and instead use noninvasive walk through metal detector and explosive trace detection devices. The agency has already removed hundreds of backscatter devices from US airports. EPIC brought the lawsuit after earlier EPIC FOIA lawsuits uncovered documents that revealed the devices were capable of storing and recording images of naked air travelers. For more information, see EPIC: Comment on the TSA Nude Body Scanner Proposal. (Jun. 25, 2013)
  • TSA "Unplugs, Boxes Up, and Ships Back" X-Ray Body Scanners: The TSA has completed removal of the x-ray body scanners from US airports. The devices revealed detailed images of a person's naked body and have been described as "digital strip searches." The TSA action follows an Act of Congress and several lawsuits by EPIC. The TSA was forced to remove the machines after Congress required that the devices produce only generic image. And as result of EPIC v. TSA the TSA is currently required to accept public comments on its airport screening procedures. The public has until June 24, 2013 to voice its opinions. The millimeter wave devices remain in US airports. For more information, see: EPIC: Comment on the TSA Nude Body Scanner Proposal and EPIC: ATR lawsuit.

    Backscatter x-ray machines show detailed images of a person's naked body and have been described as "digital strip searches."

    (May. 30, 2013)
  • Public Opposes TSA Nude Body Scanners: Following a court mandate that the Transportation Security Administration receive public comment on airport body scanners, the public overwhelmingly opposes invasive nude body scanners. The court mandate was in response to EPIC's lawsuit in EPIC v. DHS, where EPIC successfully challenged the TSA's unlawful deployment of airport body scanners. The TSA will accept comments until June 24, 2013. The public has submitted almost 2,000 comments noting various problems with the scanners, including privacy violations, potential health risks, and the machine's inability to accurately detect threats. EPIC has recently filed appeals in two Freedom of Information Act cases seeking documents related to airport body scanner radiation risks and threat detection software. For more information, see EPIC: Comment on the TSA Nude Body Scanner Proposal, EPIC: Radiation Risks lawsuit, and EPIC: ATR lawsuit. (Apr. 23, 2013)

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