Does DHS have the authority to strip search passengers like it claims?

Sure there are underwear to shield private parts from full body scanners, but even if you can hide your vitals assets, and avoid getting cancer from TSA body scanners, what happens if and when DHS steps up its power to strip search passengers?

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It'll never happen? After all, this is still the USA, land of the free. A year ago, I would agree. But now I'm not so sure since a DHS attorney appeared before a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and boldly claimed DHS has the authority to strip search every airline passenger. Although it hit the news, I was surprised by the lack of media coverage. 

EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) has been outspoken about body imaging technology and filed a lawsuit to suspend the deployment of body scanners. EPIC's opening brief [PDF] stated that DHS "has initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive, and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travelers in history."

What blew me away was when an attorney for DHS told the federal court that DHS "believes it has the legal authority to strip search every air traveler." Additionally DHS said, "it believed a mandatory strip search rule could be instituted without any public comment or rulemaking." WTF?!?! What country is this, one ruled by Nazis or the KGB? How can this even be suggested in America?

Don't get me wrong. I love the USA, but I don't love what's happening these days in the "land of free." Naked body scanners are nothing more than very expensive security theater. They don't detect PETN as Bruce Schneier has repeatedly pointed out. And if a person refuses to walk through the body scanner, then TSA agents further violate dignity and privacy by groping that passenger in an "enhanced pat-down." How did we even get to this sad point?

NBC17 reported that this weekend, after a man with autism went through the body scanners at Boston Logan International Airport, TSA agents said, "We're not satisfied" and asked him to remove his belt and suspenders. The man asked for a private screening, but was denied that right to privacy. When he removed his suspenders and belt, his pants fell down right there in front of everyone. Yet a TSA spokeswoman said, "TSA's policy is to treat everybody with respect."

Yeah, right. 

EPIC President Marc Rotenberg spoke at a oversight hearing before the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, asking Congress to suspend the body scanner program until the required public comment period.

Alaska State Representative Sharon Cissna, a breast cancer survivor, also testified at the hearing about being previously "felt up" by TSA screeners. APRN reported, "Cissna told the committee that the innocent phrase 'pat down' didn't begin to describe what she went through the first time she had to get a body search after her scars registered on a scanner." The next time her mastectomy scars showed up in a full body-scan, and a TSA worker still insisted on touching her for an invasive pat-down, Cissna refused and was not allowed to fly. She therefore had to return to Alaska via a long road trip, a small plane, and a ferry.

Professor Fred H. Cate, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University, told the hearing (PDF) that full body scanners frequently detect his insulin pump as an anomaly which leads to the dreaded enhanced pat-down search. "Under TSA's October policy, an agent would search me head to toe, including a careful pat-down of my genitals-as if somehow my genitals have become suspicious because I use an insulin pump." Cate also questioned the effectiveness of full body scanners detecting real threats.

Pilots have also amended a lawsuit against DHS and TSA, claiming that "new screening procedures for flight crews - scaled back after complaints by pilots - were still too invasive and violated privacy rights."

Threat Level's David Kravets reported on the TSA admitting it bungled airport body scanner radiation tests. While the government has always claimed radiation from naked body scanners was safe, a math error means the emissions are 10 times higher than previously reported. TSA defended the screening radiation risks again, but a Columbia University radiology researcher, David Brenner, testified that it is a low risk, but it's also "possible radiation from the machines could cause cancer in 100 people a year."

NBC Washington quoted Sen. Susan Collins as saying, "TSA has repeatedly assured me that the machines that emit radiation do not pose a health risk. Nonetheless, if TSA contractors reporting on the radiation levels have done such a poor job, how can airline passengers and crew have confidence in the data used by the TSA to reassure the public?"

Another day, another TSA fail as TSA screeners at Newark Airport allowed a mom to waltz through security with a steak knife meant to cut up her child's apple. As Gothamist asked, "can someone explain to us again why we're supposed to be ok with letting people prod our privates for weapons if the same people can't even spot a steak knife?"

But hey, that didn't stop TSA's John Pistole from asking Congress for even more money to deploy 275 additional full-body image scanners. According to MSNBC, Pistole told a House budget committee that body scanner machine technology, "has been proven safe and I assure you our operations respect individual privacy." Are you assured? Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano talked about the day when travelers no longer must remove their shoes, adding that DHS is calling for "the airport checkpoint of tomorrow" that would require fewer passenger screenings.

TSA is hoping to start using a Shoe Scanning Device system that "will be capable of detecting threat objects concealed in footwear without requiring passengers to remove their footwear as they pass through a security checkpoint." Although the TSA claims shoe scanning machines will save time and money, how could that possibly be true? It's not like the shoe scanning machines will be free, just more taxpayer dollars wasted on security theater.

Seriously, I think people have far fewer issues removing their shoes than being groped as if we are criminals under arrest. Roaming hands groping children is just sickening and unnecessary. Between EPIC's lawsuit and Congress, if there isn't something done about the body scanners and enhanced pat-downs, will DHS and TSA move on in what they consider their right to do humiliating strip searches? Wake me up, surely this is a nightmare? 

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