11/18/2010 09:43 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

ScannerGate and Unhappy Ending Pat-Downs

There has been a lot of talk in the media about new TSA security procedures, most of it skeptical. The first procedure, the full body scanners that TSA is now deploying to 150 major airports, requires passengers to submit to a scan that essentially allows TSA agents to see under their clothes. The second, "enhanced" pat-down techniques, will be employed if passengers set off metal detectors or refuse to pass through the body scanners.

What do you know about these two new security measures? Our recent survey showed us that many people haven't given this issue much thought. We ask you to take a few minutes to consider the many questions raised by the new procedures.


  • What are the machines' capabilities? What will they detect, and what will they miss? The manufacturer, Rapiscan, provides information on the system, the Rapiscan Secure 1000, on their web site. A Washington Post article provides in-depth discussion of this issue. Where, besides the manufacturer's say-so, can we go to gauge the machines' effectiveness?
  • What do the agents see? Press releases generally claim that they're looking at "stick figure" kinds of images, but the fact is that they produce five different kinds of images, selectable at all times by TSA personnel. To see examples of those image types, along with a penetrating discussion of the issue, see the World Culture Picture blog site article on the scanners.
  • How much radiation do the machines emit? Did you know that radiation is cumulative? How much radiation is safe, both single-dose and over time? Is it different for pregnant women or others? The Massachusetts Institution of Technology has opinions on these issues. What about safety levels for children and pregnant women? Ask your pediatrician or obstetrician. Fast-developing cells are more vulnerable to radiation damage.
  • Medical personnel and others who work around radiation sources use procedures and protective devices to ensure that they don't receive damaging doses. What protections do TSA personnel have?
  • What protections do you have? How are the machines calibrated and maintained and what means are in place to ensure that we don't get an accidental overdose?
  • How will this new requirement, which is in addition to the metal detector, affect your time getting through security?
Enhanced Pat-Down Procedures
  • What, exactly, are the new procedures, and how do they differ from the old ones? The Government Security News website has a good explanation.
  • Will you allow a stranger to put their hands everywhere on your body?
  • Will you be able to track your carry-on items while you are being thoroughly examined by a TSA agent?
  • Will the new pat-down detect threats such as last year's "Underwear Bomb?"
Are There Constitutional Issues?
  • The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution provides protection against unreasonable search and seizure. It's one sentence long, but lots of law has been built around it. How does that apply to these measures?
  • The Fifth Amendment provides protection against self-incrimination, but also says that we cannot be accused of a crime without a Grand Jury indictment, subjected to double jeopardy, deprived of due process, or deprived of property without due compensation. How does that apply to these measures?
Is This the Best Approach? Do these new measures address the right security issues? What about air cargo, for which the threat
  • was so vividly illustrated with the Yemen incident in early November?
  • What about the time you spend in the coiling line shuffling towards the TSA gates? How can you be sure the guy behind you isn't wrapped in dynamite?
  • What impact does this have on your time? How long will it take you to clear security?
  • What about the Al Qaeda technique of hiding explosives inside their infiltrators' bodies?
  • What about the vendors inside the TSA checkpoint? Are they scrutinized as deeply as you are? Are their supply deliveries scrutinized? How do their half-liter water bottles differ from the ones you aren't allowed to carry though the check point?
  • What alternatives are available? For example, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) suggests a more automated, less intrusive approach.
  • Could other measures, such as the use of canine explosive detectors, be more effective and less intrusive?
  • Is this actual security enhancement, or just security theater?

If you come to the same conclusions did, please sign our Scannergate:Privacy is Paramount petition.