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EPIC v. DHS (Mobile Body Scanners FOIA Lawsuit)

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  • Congress Investigates Airline Privacy Practices: Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) is currently seeking information from ten U.S. airlines concerning how airlines safeguard consumer traveler data. Senator Rockefeller has requested information regarding: (1) the type of information airlines collect; (2) airlines' data retention periods; (3) airline privacy and security safeguards governing consumer information; (4) whether consumers may access and amend their information; (5) whether airlines sell or disclose consumer information and if so, to whom do they disclose the consumer data; and (6) how airlines inform consumers about airline privacy policies governing consumer information. EPIC routinely urges the Department of Homeland Security to provide privacy protections for air travelers and end the agency's secret "risk-based" passenger profiling. For more information, see EPIC: Air Travel Privacy, EPIC: Passenger Profiling, EPIC: Secure Flight, and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Aug. 20, 2014)
  • Senate to Hold Homeland Security Oversight Hearing: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold an oversight hearing for the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify. EPIC has objected to many of the agency's mass surveillance practices, including the secret profiling of American air travelers, the use of drones for aerial surveillance, the amassing of information on Americans into "fusion centers", and the collection of biometric identifiers. EPIC has also warned that the DHS Chief Privacy Officer has failed to safeguard privacy, a legal obligation for that office. According to the DHS, the number of privacy complaints increased in 2013. EPIC has several Freedom of Information Act case pending against the DHS. In an earlier case, EPIC determined the DHS was monitoring social media and news organizations for criticisms of the agency. Another EPIC case led to the removal of the x-ray backscatter devices from US airports. For more information, see EPIC v. DHS - Social Media Monitoring and EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Jun. 10, 2014)
  • EPIC Settles FOIA Case, Obtains Body Scanner Radiation Fact Sheets: EPIC has received the documents that were the subject of EPIC's Freedom of Information Act appeal to the D.C. Circuit in EPIC v. DHS (Body Scanner FOIA Appeal). The agency had previously withheld test results, fact sheets, and estimates regarding the radiation risks of body scanners used to screen passengers at airports. EPIC challenged the lower court's determination that the factual material was "deliberative" and therefore exempt from the FOIA. After filing an opening brief to the D.C. Circuit, EPIC participated in a new appellate mediation program. As a result of the mediation, EPIC obtained not only the records sought, but also attorneys' fees. The fact sheets show that the agency did not perform a "quantitative analysis" of risks and benefits before implementing the body scanner program. EPIC addressed that concern in the 2011 lawsuit EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). That EPIC case also had a favorable outcome, and ultimately resulted in the removal of backscatter x-ray scanners from US airports. For more information, see EPIC v. DHS - Body Scanner FOIA Appeal and EPIC v. DHS - Suspension of Body Scanner Program. (Jan. 10, 2014)
  • 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 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)
  • EPIC Appeals FOIA Decisions Concerning Body Scanner Information: EPIC has filed appeals in two Freedom of Information Act cases seeking documents related to airport body scanners from the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. EPIC filed FOIA requests with the agencies seeking records related to radiation risks from body scanners and the threat detection software the machines use. The TSA is currently developing formal rules for the use of body scanners in response to a court order in one of EPIC's previous cases. Body scanners allow routine digital strip searches of individuals who are not suspected of any crime. For more information, see EPIC: Radiation Risks lawsuit and EPIC: ATR lawsuit, and EPIC: Suspension of Body Scanner Program. (Apr. 16, 2013)
  • EPIC Obtains News Information on TSA Body Scanner Program: The Transportation Security Administration was forced to disclose additional information regarding the Agency's controversial body scanner program after EPIC prevailed in a lawsuit against the Agency. In March 2013, Judge Royce Lamberth held that the Agency had unlawfully redacted certain information from records released to EPIC under the Freedom of Information Act containing details on software modifications made to the scanners. In response to a separate lawsuit filed against the Department of Homeland Security regarding the Agency's authority to deploy the devices, the TSA has initiated a process to allow the public to comment on the program. EPIC is recommending that the TSA adopt more effective screening procedures. For more information, see and EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Apr. 10, 2013)

Background

In EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has sought the release of documents held by the agency regarding mobile body scanners.

In 2005, the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”), a Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) component, began testing imaging technology (body scanners) to screen air travelers. EPIC is challenging the Department of Homeland Security’s use of body scanners at US airports.

Use of the technology has expanded beyond air travel to include use at other venues and the use of mobile scanning technology. In March 2010, the DHS released a “Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment,” which detailed the agency’s plans to conduct risk assessments and implement new body scanner technology in America’s surface transportation systems, including “mass transit, highways, freight rail, and pipelines . . . .” In 2006 and again in 2009, body scanner technology was tested on Port Authority Trans-Hudson New York/New Jersey (“PATH”) train riders. News stories have also reported the deployment of mobile body scanner technology in vans that are able to scan other vehicles while driving down public roadways.

In response to a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request, EPIC obtained documents from the DHS indicating that the agency has spent millions of dollars developing and acquiring mobile body scanner technology, as well as body scanner technology for use in surface transit and other high occupancy venues. According to the documents obtained by EPIC, the federal agency plans to expand the use of these systems to monitor crowds, peering under clothes and inside bags away from airports.

EPIC’s Freedom of Information Act Requests and Subsequent Lawsuit

On November 24, 2010, EPIC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for agency records that directly relate to the TSA body scanner program. EPIC requested the following agency records:

  • all documents detailing plans by federal law enforcement agencies to implement body scanner technology in the surface transportation context;
  • all contracts, proposals, and communications with private transportation and shipping companies (including, but not limited to NJ PATH, Amtrak, and Greyhound) regarding the implementation of body scanner technology in surface transit;
  • all contracts, proposals, and communications with states, localities, tribes, and territories (and their subsidiaries or agencies) regarding the implementation of body scanners in surface transportation;
  • all documents detailing plans by federal law enforcement agencies to use “Z Backscatter Vans” or similar technology;
  • all contracts, proposals, and communications with the manufacturers of the “Z Backscatter Vans” or similar technology;
  • all contracts, proposals, and communications with states, localities, tribes, and territories (and their subsidiaries or agencies) regarding the implementation of “Z Backscatter Vans” or similar technology;
  • all images generated by the “Z Backsscatter Vans” or body scanner technology that has been used in surface transit systems.

DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate (“S&T”) acknowledged EPIC’s FOIA request and identified 1,156 pages of documents responsive to the request. Of the 1,156 pages, S&T released 15 in their entirety, another 158 documents were released in redacted form, and the remaining 983 documents were withheld in their entirety. In withholding the 983 documents, S&T invoked various exemptions under FOIA.

On April 14, 2011, EPIC filed an administrative appeal [link to appeal?] challenging the partial withholding of the 158 documents and the complete withholding of the 983 documents. S&T failed to respond to EPIC’s administrative appeal.

On May 20, 2011, EPIC sued DHS to force production of all agency records responsive to EPIC’s FOIA request.

Legal Documents

EPIC v. the Department of Homeland Security, Case No.02084 (D.D.C. filed May 20, 2011)

Freedom of Information Act Documents

EPIC's November 24, 2010 Request for Agency Records under the Freedom of Information Act

DHS’s Production of Records to EPIC includes:
  • Privacy Impact Assessment for the Rail Security Pilot Study Phase II at PATH (July 12, 2006)
  • Backscatter X-Ray for Suicide Bomber Detection slides
  • Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate agreement with Transportation Security Administration regarding Standalone Backscatter X-ray System (June 18, 2008)
  • Research and Development Award Announcement for Rapiscan with Contracts Northeastern University Statements of Work with Contracts

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