Friday, December 31, 2010

Minnesota Tenants Challenge Nosy Housing Inspectors

From Reason Magazine:
Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court agreed to hear a case in which the Institute for Justice is challenging a local ordinance that lets housing inspectors roam people's apartments to make sure they're up to code. Red Wing, Minnesota, began requiring the inspections in 2006 as a condition of granting rental licenses to landlords. If a landlord or occupant does not agree to an inspection, the city can ask a judge for a warrant. But because the visits are classified as 'administrative inspections,' the city does not have to show there is any reason to suspect that a particular building is substandard. Armed with administrative warrants, inspectors can poke their noses into tenants' bedrooms, bathrooms, closets, and even, until a recent revision of the law, refrigerators and medicine cabinets. Although they are ostensibly looking for hazards that need to be corrected, they are expected to report evidence of certain crimes—including methamphetamine production, child abuse, elder abuse, and pet abuse—to the police. Inspectors thus can serve as proxies for the police, who would not be allowed to search people's homes without probable cause to support a criminal search warrant.

Balance public concerns, police technology

From Smart-Grid:
Smile. You're on Big Brother's camera.

There is something creepy about how advances in technology can be used to watch the comings and goings of innocent Americans. Cameras have been posted at intersections to snap photos of cars that speed through red lights. Monitors have been pointed at public streets, public sidewalks and public parks where drugs and crime have run rampant.

Now a device that allows authorities to capture and process more than 100,000 license-plate images in an hour is being employed around the country. When a match with a stolen car or some other warrant is found, an alert is issued, often leading to an arrest Yes, there is something creepy about it, but there is also something comforting about it.

TSA bans bikini woman for ‘unusual contour’ around buttocks

From Raw Story:
A woman who became a YouTube sensation earlier this month when she went through airport security in a bikini spent a night at the airport Tuesday because of TSA agents' concerns about an 'unusual contour' around her buttocks.

Tammy Banovac says she is hand-searched every time she goes through airport security because she uses a wheelchair. But ever since the TSA instituted new 'enhanced' pat-downs that involve touching of genitals, she has found herself feeling violated.

'If it happened anywhere else, it would have been sexual assault,' she says of the procedure.

TSA’s actions will lead to more public distrust

From the San Francisco Examiner:
There seems to be a strange double standard contrasting what the Transportation Security Administration is representing.

It appears passive security is being used for ground personnel while the offensive overkill is being visited on the public — it is nothing more than theater for the public. It is doubtful that the TSA or Homeland Security Department has been diligent if the San Francisco International Airport security flaws exist, which leaves them in the uncomfortable position of having to admit hypocrisy.

Airports May Offload TSA In Wake of Pat-Down Protests

To say that the flying public isn't happy about the new full-body scanners and up-close-and-personal pat-down procedures is putting it very mildly. Well, nobody else is happy about it either and now there's pressure from Congress and airport managers to do something about it.

One unlikely-sounding solution is to turn over airport screening duties to private security firms, relegating the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to more of a regulatory and oversight function.

It may come as a surprise to most travelers to learn that airports are not required to use TSA screeners. In fact, there are at least 16 airports, including San Francisco International, which outsource screening and security to private firms.

TSA solution: Name 'em and shame 'em

From WorldNetDaily:
So far, the revolt against the Transportation and Security Administration has resulted in very little fundamental change, other than exemptions for special interests. By fundamental change, I mean the restoration of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution: 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.'

One misconception that lingers is that the traveler can choose between the Scylla of the scan and the Charybdis of the enhanced pat down. Even if you select what to you is a lesser evil, your TSA dominator or dominatrix could still pull you over for a once-over. After opting for the photons as opposed to the fondle, 'a bladder cancer survivor from Michigan, who wears a urostomy bag that collects his urine,' 'was pulled to the side to be patted down by a TSA agent.' Such stories abound.

Security theater: C’ville native nets airport disorderly charge

From The Hook News Blog:
When Aaron B. Tobey decided to exercise his First Amendment rights by displaying the Fourth Amendment on his chest while going through security at the Richmond International Airport, he expected that he might be detained for further questioning.

“He was astounded he was arrested for disorderly conduct,” says his father, Charlottesville accountant Robert Tobey.

At the airport conveyor belt, Aaron, 21, removed everything but his shorts to reveal what he’d scrawled on his torso: “Amendment 4: The right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated.”

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Airport searches: getting our priorities right

From's On Liberty blog:
As we end the year with another period of hectic holiday travel, one thing that is being subjected to more indignities at the airport than our scanned and groped bodies is the US Constitution.

Remember the Fourth Amendment? It is supposed to protect you from unreasonable searches and seizures. It is the source of our expectation of privacy, and the notion that law-abiding people have a right to be left alone.

In the past, courts have said that airport screening is constitutional so long as it is 'reasonable'--and searches are reasonable if they are minimally intrusive given the threat they are designed to prevent, and are well tailored to protect privacy.

Privacy Alert: 10 Biggest Threats of 2010

From the PCWorld Business Center:
2010 could go on record as the year the privacy mess hit the proverbial fan.

Companies such as Apple, AT&T, Facebook, and Google all got nailed for sharing users' personal data in big ways, accidentally or otherwise. Police officers were caught tracking people's movements via cell phones, while Web advertisers tracked surfers' virtual movements via hard-to-kill cookies. Schools spied on their students, mobile apps spied on their owners, and the feds caught heat for getting a little too personal with their security searches.

But the biggest privacy headlines of 2010 weren't necessarily the biggest threats, while some lesser-known incidents had far more serious implications. How dangerous are these privacy issues to you? In this rundown, we use the Department of Homeland Security's threat level system to rate the threats, and we provide suggestions on how you can protect yourself.

Former TSA agent gets probation, not jail time, for stealing passengers' computers

Americans might want to exercise more caution when dealing with the potential terrorists operating the security lines at the airport than those allegedly trying to get through them and onto planes. Another report of U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) misconduct released by USA Today explains that a former TSA agent has been put on three years probation for stealing thousands of dollars worth of computer and electronic equipment from passengers' luggage.

'Authorities say 37-year-old Troy Davis, of Willingboro, N.J., took five laptop computers and a PlayStation game in March 2009,' wrote The Associated Press. 'An airline baggage handler spotted him hiding the items behind an explosive-detection machine.'

Davis pleaded guilty to the crimes back in October 2009. And although he was ordered to pay $5,000 in fines, Davis was not sentenced to any jail time because he allegedly served in the military prior to working for the TSA, which prompted the judge to adjust his sentence accordingly.

Colfax pilot who posted S.F. airport security video steps forward

From the Sacramento Bee:
The pilot who posted a cell phone video on YouTube revealing potential loopholes in airport security identified himself Monday and said he is 'pretty shocked' by the national uproar he has caused.

Chris Liu, a 50-year-old Colfax resident and 27-year veteran pilot, said in an interview with a Sacramento television station that he never imagined his 'little video' of what he felt were lax procedures at San Francisco International Airport would get much attention.

The video, posted Nov. 30, has since been pulled from YouTube, and Liu has been stripped of his role in a federal anti-terrorism program that allowed him to carry a handgun while flying. His story has been covered by media across the country – including local outlets, CNN and Fox News.

'I never even thought about being an activist,' Liu told News 10 Monday night, 'but it's kind of turning into that direction.'

US Transportation Security Administration buys useless tech

From TechEye:
US Accounting watchdogs have bitten the rump of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for wasting millions on daft technology, which does not work.

In the wake of September 11, the Authority was given a blank cheque to use technology to protect the great unwashed from terror attacks. It did so buy forcing passengers to go through long queues and take their shoes off on the sound basis that all terrorists wore shoes, therefore if people took off their footware they could not be terrorists.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Is reading wife's e-mail a crime? Rochester Hills man faces trial

From the Detroit Free Press (h/t @packet_storm):
A Rochester Hills man faces up to 5 years in prison -- for reading his wife's e-mail.

Oakland County prosecutors, relying on a Michigan statute typically used to prosecute crimes such as identity theft or stealing trade secrets, have charged Leon Walker, 33, with a felony after he logged onto a laptop in the home he shared with his wife, Clara Walker.

Using her password, he accessed her Gmail account and learned she was having an affair. He now is facing a Feb. 7 trial. She filed for divorce, which was finalized earlier this month.

Legal experts say it's the first time the statute has been used in a domestic case, and it might be hard to prove.
This part is worth quoting:
Oakland County Prosecutor Jessica Cooper defended her decision to charge Leon Walker.

"The guy is a hacker," Cooper said in a voice mail response to the Free Press last week. "It was password protected, he had wonderful skills, and was highly trained. Then he downloaded them and used them in a very contentious way."

Walker's defense attorney, Leon Weiss, said Cooper is "dead wrong" on the law.
So using a password he got from her password book sitting next to the computer was "hacking." I will definitely keep an eye on this case.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Border Patrol, police: License plate readers help catch suspects but worry privacy advocates

From the Los Angeles Times:
The high-tech cameras can scan 1,800 plates a minute and run them through crime databases. Some fear the government will use the technology to track innocent people.

Landlord sues over alleged East Lansing mailbox searches

From the Lansing State Journal:
C. Michael Doherty received 251 tickets from the city last year for violating maximum occupancy provisions on three rental properties he owned in the city.

He paid $7,800 in fines to settle the matter, but is now suing East Lansing and three current and former employees of the city's code enforcement department over the way he alleges the violations were discovered: looking inside of mailboxes.

'Just about everyone knows you're not supposed to get into somebody's mailbox,' said Doherty's attorney Jeffrey Hank.

The complaint alleges that the practice is a violation of Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable searches and asks that the court void previous code violation settlements in cases where mailbox searches were used to gather evidence and 'refund all financial settlements to victims of the unlawful housing court enforcement regime.'

Search Me! TSA Has No Clue When Scans and Pat-Downs Will End

From TakePart:
Asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley on Sunday if modifications could be expected in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening procedures, which some travelers have termed invasive, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano replied: “Not for the foreseeable future.”

Effectiveness of airport body scanners eyed

The full-body scanners in use at 78 U.S. airports can detect small amounts of contraband and hidden weapons, all while producing controversial images of travelers.

The 'good catches,' federal officials say, have largely gone unnoticed amid the criticism that erupted over the ghostly X-rays and 'enhanced' pat-downs.

The Transportation Security Administration, which intensified airport screening last month, points to several successes: small amounts of marijuana wrapped in baggies, other drugs stitched inside underwear, ceramic knives in shirt pockets.

But the machines could miss something far more deadly: explosive material taped to someone's abdomen or hidden inside a cavity. Researchers and security experts question the technology's ability to detect chemical explosives that are odorless and easily molded to fool machines and security screeners. Government testing has also raised concerns about the effectiveness of the full-body scanners.

Study: Body scanners fail to spot some weapons, explosives

From the Daily Record:
The X-ray body scanners increasingly in use at airport security checkpoints across the country cannot detect certain types of explosives and weapons, according to research by two respected academics.

So-called backscatter X-ray machines, which are designed to see through clothing to detect non-metal weapons and explosives, have difficulty differentiating between plastic explosives and human flesh, a study appears in the Journal of Transportation Security says.

One of the study's authors, Joseph Carlson, a physicist who specializes in testing of medical imaging equipment, says the review was designed to add to the debate over whether the machines, which create blurry images of the body, are worth the intrusion on the public.

New Pilot says TSA punished him for sharing videos online

A California-based commercial pilot says the Transportation Security Administration retaliated against him after he posted videos online showing what he described as shortcomings in airport security.

The series of videos showed scenes from inside the San Francisco International Airport and were narrated by the pilot, who pointed out the contrast between the passengers who were heavily scrutinized, while a single door separated employees who worked on the airfield from the airport.

'I was trying to bring up the obvious, ludicrous TSA-type of security,' the pilot said, referring to the cell phone videos he posted, and later removed, from the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

Can trains, subways be protected from terrorists?

The government's top security officials say they are upgrading subway and rail defenses against terrorist attacks throughout the country, but a USA TODAY examination finds gaping holes, including many that may not be possible to plug.
The holes in security leave travelers more vulnerable on the more than 4 billion trips they take by subway and rail each year than in the sky, where airlines carried fewer than 700 million passengers from U.S. airports last year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Official files suit over police stop

A Forsyth County planning commissioner and retired dentist has filed a federal civil rights suit against a small northeast Georgia town.

Joe Moses contends a city of Arcade police officer violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights in 2008 when he was stopped on U.S. 129.

According to Gerry Weber, Moses’ attorney, the suit alleges “false imprisonment and harassment by the city of Arcade police during an illegal and unwarranted traffic stop.”

TSA must explain security flaws, pilot discipline

From Mind Your Own Damn Business Politics:
We the People need to vigilantly watch over the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s actions regarding a pilot the TSA is disciplining for a posting videos of security flaws at the San Francisco International Airport.

The video identified numerous flaws that are blatantly obvious, including easy access to secure areas for ground crew and a large ax inside secure areas. After posting the offending videos the pilot was visited at his home by six officials, four federal air marshals and two local sheriffs. The officials confiscated the pilot’s federally issued gun and state carry permit. In addition, the pilot faces potential civil penalties from the TSA.

San Francisco airport defends security in wake of pilot's videos

The leadership of San Francisco's airport fired back Saturday at critics who had rallied around a commercial pilot who had posted videos online showing what he described as shortcomings in security.

The series of videos featured scenes from inside the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and were narrated by the pilot, who pointed out the contrast between the passengers, who were heavily scrutinized, and airport employees who just passed through a single door.

The footage was posted, and later removed, from the popular video-sharing website YouTube.

Security Breach Causes Delays at DFW

From NBC Dallas-Fort Worth:
Christmas Day travelers were delayed getting to their destinations after a security breach at DFW International Airport.

TSA screeners say a passenger skipped going through a secondary security checkpoint inside Terminal B. The issue forced all passengers to be re-screened, including those who were already boards on American Eagle flights.

65 flights were delayed, some for as much as two hours. An airport spokesman said 40 flights coming into DFW were also delayed because of the issue.

Alert issued on beverage containers on planes

The Homeland Security Department has alerted air carriers to a potential terror tactic involving insulated beverage containers like thermoses.

The alert stressed that there is no intelligence about an active terror plot, but travelers may notice airport screeners taking a closer look at empty insulated containers.

The Transportation Security Administration 'is carefully monitoring information related to terrorist tactics' in coordination with other nations, TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said in a statement Thursday. 'The possible tactics terrorists might use include the concealment of explosives inside insulated beverage containers, so in the coming days, passengers flying within and to the U.S. may notice additional security measures related to insulated beverage containers.'

Woman arrested at ABIA after refusing enhanced pat down

Early Wednesday morning, a computer glitch shut down a security checkpoint for a couple of hours at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The line snaked out the door as many travelers waited for more than an hour and some missed their flights. One of the first people in line after that shutdown never made it through. She was arrested and banned from the airport.

Claire Hirschkind, 56, who says she is a rape victim and who has a pacemaker-type device implanted in her chest, says her constitutional rights were violated. She says she never broke any laws. But the Transportation Security Administration disagrees.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Police win case over cell-phone photos

From The Daily Record:
Voyeuristic police officers who passed around revealing photographs discovered on a defendant’s cellphone are not subject to a civil rights suit by the defendant’s girlfriend, pictured in the photos.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week rejected the appeal by Jessie Casella, who sought damages for her humiliation from Culpeper police under section 1983.

Feds Say Airport Body Scanners are ‘Minimally Intrusive'

From Wired's Threat Level blog:
The government said late Thursday the full-body imaging scanners being deployed to airports nationwide are “reasonable,” “minimally intrusive,” and their “interference with individual liberty is limited.”

The Justice Department’s remarks (.pdf) were the first publicly explaining the scanners to the courts. The legal filing was responding to a leading privacy group’s lawsuit urging the courts to suspend their use for, among other things, Fourth Amendment privacy breaches.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the Transportation Security Agency, conceded to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines are not foolproof. But their privacy threats, however slim, are designed to protect against terrorists concealing “non-metallic items,” the government said.

Sacramento-area pilot punished for YouTube video

An airline pilot is being disciplined by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for posting video on YouTube pointing out what he believes are serious flaws in airport security.

The 50-year-old pilot, who lives outside Sacramento, asked that neither he nor his airline be identified. He has worked for the airline for more than a decade and was deputized by the TSA to carry a gun in the cockpit.

He is also a helicopter test pilot in the Army Reserve and flew missions for the United Nations in Macedonia.

Three days after he posted a series of six video clips recorded with a cell phone camera at San Francisco International Airport, four federal air marshals and two sheriff's deputies arrived at his house to confiscate his federally-issued firearm. The pilot recorded that event as well and provided all the video to News10.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

For the TSA, all risks are created equal

From the Bellingham Herald:
John Pistole, the head of the Transportation Security Administration, recently told The Atlantic in an interview that 'we'll never eliminate risk' of terrorist attacks on aviation.
He's right, which is why the TSA's policy of treating everyone as an equal risk is so misguided. It has led to the outrages of the past few weeks and the public backlash against the TSA. We need to scuttle the TSA's equal-risk policy in favor of one that concentrates on genuine potential risks.
Reading the interview, one is struck by how reasonable Pistole sounds, presenting the TSA's current policies as the best we can do in trying circumstances.
The trouble is in the policy's application. The individual performance of TSA officers is highly variable. They possess extreme discretionary powers, but there is little to no recourse for passengers who have bad experiences. Even worse, TSA officers essentially have power without responsibility.

TSA ranks lowest in travel survey

The U.S. airline industry, which has an unenviable record of failing practically every customer-service survey for the last generation, has a new rival: The Transportation Security Administration.

A new poll says the agency charged with protecting the nation's transportation systems offered travelers the worst customer service in 2010. The survey, conducted last week by the Consumer Travel Alliance, found half of all travelers believed TSA offered the worst service, followed by airlines (29 percent), car rental companies (10 percent), hotels (5 percent), cruise lines (3 percent), online travel agencies and bricks-and-mortar agencies (roughly 1 percent each).

Travelers say they picked the federal screeners not because TSA's service is universally bad, but because it is inconsistent.

Florida airport search that found porn upheld

From the
Evidence of crime not related to travel hazards that airport screeners stumble upon while inspecting luggage for weapons and explosives can be used against travelers in criminal proceedings, a Florida appeal court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel said its unanimous decision involving child pornography found during a search at Pensacola Regional Airport is the first of its kind, noting the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue.

The Florida decision is a setback for air passengers, said Charlie Leocha, director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, an advocacy group based in Springfield, Va., that also has opposed whole-body scanners.
The full text of the decision here:

ICE Agents May Be Sued Over Immigration Raid

From the Courthouse News Service:
Illegal immigrants can sue the government for constitutional rights violations stemming from a predawn raid, a Connecticut federal judge ruled.
Four teams of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents invaded homes in New Haven, Conn., without probable cause or arrest warrants. They detained 11 people for between 3 and 27 days before they were released.
The 11 plaintiffs sued the federal government, immigration agents who conducted the raid, and the agents' supervisors for violating their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights, as well as negligent supervision and hiring.
U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill upheld the Fifth Amendment equal protection claims and the Fourth Amendment charges against four of the supervisors.
The full text of the decision is here:
Diaz-Bernal v. Myers

WMATA bag searches make transit less safe, not more

From Greater Greater Washington:
This morning, the Metro Transit Police began conducting the system's first random bag checks. These inspections are couched in the language of security, but they actually make the system less safe.

Passengers boarding during the morning rush at Braddock Road and College Park faced these screenings. The Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock reported that one man's check took 8 minutes, and yet nothing threatening was found.

People have been objecting to these random bag checks on a variety of grounds. The ACLU says that they infringe on civil liberties. Dr. Gridlock disputed the argument that they are a 'necessary evil,' writing that 'To be a necessary evil, a thing must be both necessary and evil,' and that this policy is only the latter, not the former. Even Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton thinks they're ineffective.

Groups collect petition signatures

From the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock blog:
Two groups opposed to Metro doing random bag checks plan to be at Union Station Wednesday evening to collect signatures on a petition opposing the action.

The D.C. Bill of Rights Coalition and the Montgomery Civil Rights Coalition said they have collected about 500 names on the petition. The groups say the inspections violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Metro officials maintain that the screenings are constitutional.

Activists say they will be collecting signatures at the Union Station Metro stop near the escalator from to 6:30 p.m.

D.C. Metro Police Launch Bag Searches: Fourth Amendment Violation?

From Gather:
Washington, D.C.'s Metro Police have launched random bag searches amid protests from some that they violate the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable search and seizure. While some see it as an invasion of privacy, others welcome the random searches of passengers boarding D.C.'s subway system.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

TSA Chief: 'We'll Never Eliminate Risk'

From The Atlantic:
Ever since new airport security procedures went into effect in late October, the Transportation Security Administration has been at the center of controversy. The combination of enhanced image screening with invasive patdowns for those who opt out has rankled civil liberties advocates and some of the flying public. John Pistole, the head of the TSA, is a 26-year veteran of the FBI -- an expert in counterterrorism and for six years the bureau's deputy director. As TSA administrator since July, he finds himself having to defend the new measures. James Fallows and Jeffrey Goldberg spoke with Pistole on Monday. An edited version of the interview is below; their posts about the conversation are here and here.

Government orders more Morpho detectors

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has ordered more than 1,200 additional explosive detection systems from Morpho Detection Inc.

The California company said the order is worth $32 million and is the fourth order under an indefinite-delivery/indefinite quantity contract for its Itemiser DX desktop explosives trace detection systems.

'We are very pleased by the confidence TSA has demonstrated in Itemiser DX's ability to help protect air travel across the United States,' said Dennis Cooke, president and chief executive officer of Morpho Detection. 'We are confident in Itemiser DX's ability to deliver the most advanced explosives detection possible to checkpoint, air cargo and checked bag screening at the nation's airports.'

Now for something completely different? The uncertain Fourth Amendment analysis of computer searches

From Lexology:
Few provisions in the Bill of Rights better illustrate the shortcomings of an “original intent” approach to Constitutional interpretation than does the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of “[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” Eighteenth-century words must be given new meaning in order to have currency in the twenty-first century. As record-keeping has shifted from storing a handful of parchment documents in a Colonial-era footlocker to housing millions of bytes of data on sleek laptops, Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has struggled to balance legitimate law enforcement needs with citizens’ modern expectations of privacy. No consensus has been achieved on updating the legal construct of the Fourth Amendment to encompass both old and new means of maintaining information.

Red Bank officer fired

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
An outside investigation commissioned by Red Bank provided more than enough Fourth Amendment fodder to fire a police corporal and suspend two other officers, according to City Manager Chris Dorsey.

On Monday, Dorsey terminated Cpl. Rebecca Chauncey for allowing a bail bondsman to force his way into an elderly couple's home as he looked for someone who missed a court date -- all without a search warrant, consent or life-or-death circumstances.

The Fourth Amendment prohibits 'unreasonable' searches and requires signed warrants supported by probable cause.

'[Chauncey] stated that [bondsmen] have more authority than she does, that they don't have to have a warrant,' according to an investigation conducted by Tellico Resolution Group.

Auditors question TSA's use of and spending on technology

From the Washington Post:
The Transportation Security Administration spent about $30 million on devices that puffed air on travelers to 'sniff' them out for explosives residue. Those machines ended up in warehouses, removed from airports, abandoned as impractical.

The massive push to fix airport security in the United States after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, led to a gold rush in technology contracts for an industry that mushroomed almost overnight. Since it was founded in 2001, the TSA has spent roughly $14 billion in more than 20,900 transactions with dozens of contractors.

DC Metro bag inspections begin today

From the Washington Post's Dr. Gridlock blog:
Metro began random inspections of passengers' bags and packages this morning, five days after first announcing the checks. The searches are underway at Braddock Road and at least one other Metro station.

'Excuse me ma'am. We are doing random bag searches. It will take about 25 seconds of your time,' a Metro police officer said to a woman with a large handbag entering Braddock road station. At first the woman said 'no' but the officer made clear it was necessary to enter the station. 'I guess I will then' the woman said.

She moved to a nearby table where another officer swiped her bag and put it through a reader. 'Have a wonderful day,' the officer said. 'Happy holidays.'

Monday, December 20, 2010

TSA Screenings & Your Rights

I received this in my email this morning; updates located at or or  Thanks to Sai!

TSA Rights

TSA Admits Lying About Naked Boy Controversy

From PrisonPlanet:
The TSA has been caught in yet another act of public deception after the agency was forced to admit that it lied when it initially claimed a 5-year-old boy was strip-searched at Salt Lake City International Airport last month because he had set off a metal detector.
On a side note, I am really happy to see that Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz will take charge of the House subcommittee overseeing the TSA in the next session.

Data privacy high on next year's policy agenda

From FierceCIO:
Much has been made of the many uncertainties facing businesses and their IT executives in the year ahead, but one area in which there is sure to be movement is data privacy policy. Leaked, stolen and lost data is costing companies their reputations and money, and it is costing consumers their Fourth Amendment rights. The status quo is acceptable to no one aside from some online advertisers.

The Obama Administration last week issued a report (.pdf) calling for a new Privacy Policy Office within the Department of Commerce, which would be dedicated to strengthening privacy policies and coordinating with other countries. The report, authored by the Internet Policy Task Force at the Commerce Department, sets forth 10 areas of recommended policy changes for businesses, lawmakers and regulators to consider.

Newark airport terminal closes for 2 hours following security scare caused by computer monitor

A computer monitor that was checked as baggage caused a security scare this morning at Newark Liberty International Airport, prompting officials to shut down a terminal for two hours as a precaution.

The Transportation Security Administration detected the suspicious package at 6:17 a.m. during screening of checked baggage in Terminal A, which is home to American Airlines at the airport, TSA spokesman James Fotenos said.
Oh brother!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Delaware Court Strikes Down Warrantless GPS Tracking

From the Electronic Privacy Information Center:
The Delaware Superior Court has ruled that police must obtain a warrant before using GPS devices to monitor vehicles. The Court said that the Delaware Constitution protects its citizens' reasonable expectation of privacy from "constant surveillance." "Everyone understands there is a possibility that on any one occasion or even multiple occasions, they may be observed by a member of the public or possibly law enforcement," the Court reasoned, "but there is not such an expectation that an omnipresent force is watching your every move."
Here is the text of the decision:

Delaware v. Holden

Tester introduces legislation for airport body-scan privacy

From in Great Falls, Montana:
U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation on Thursday to strengthen privacy rights by criminalizing any misuse of airport body-scan images by Transportation Security Administration employees.

Many travelers have become concerned that new high-tech scanners produce revealing body images.

TSA rules forbid security screeners from saving or identifying the images; Tester’s legislation would make it a federal crime to permanently photograph, record or distribute any image produced using a full-body scanner.

Employees of federal agencies like the IRS and the Social Security Administration are already prohibited by law from distributing citizens’ private information. Tester’s measure would similarly ban the distribution of body-scan images taken in airports or any other federal buildings.

Federal employees who illegally record or distribute body-scan images would face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine under Tester’s legislation.

Tester has posted the Security Screening Privacy Act on his website (new window, PDF).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Los Alamos Scientist: TSA Scanners Shred Human DNA

Boian Alexandrov at the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico recently published an abstract with colleagues, 'DNA Breathing Dynamics in the Presence of a Terahertz Field ' that reveals very disturbing—even shocking—evidence that the THz waves generated by TSA scanners is significantly damaging the DNA of the people being directed through the machines, and the TSA workers that are in close proximity to the scanners throughout their workday.

The Supreme Court and technology - are the Justices ready for 21st century cases?

From ITworld:
More and more technology cases are heading to the Supreme Court. Do the Justices understand technology well enough to render accurate decisions in highly technical cases?
See the full article here.

DC Metro to begin random bag searches

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), which runs the Washington, D.C. Metro, is beginning random bag searches. Here is their demonstration of what it will look like:

No doubt we will be keeping an eye on how these searches are actually effected and whether or not they're within the bounds of the Fourth Amendment.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

EFF Location Privacy Victory at Third Circuit Stands, With Implications Far Beyond Your Cell Phone

From the EFF:
In EFF's second major privacy victory in as many days, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals today denied the government's request that it reconsider its September decision regarding government access to cell phone company records that reveal your past locations. That means the court's original opinion — holding that federal magistrates have the discretion to require the government to get a search warrant based on probable cause before obtaining cell phone location records — is now the settled law of the Third Circuit, assuming the government doesn't seek review by the Supreme Court. Importantly, this victory won't just provide greater protection for the privacy of your cell phone records but for all other communications records that the government currently obtains without warrants.

TSA X-Ray Machines Easily Fooled, Researchers Find

Apparently these "digital strip searches" are not as effective as the TSA would like to think. However, because of all of the money and hassle that has gone into implementing and enforcing the new TSA rules, the government will likely ignore the facts.


Any would-be terrorist can easily outsmart the ubiquitous backscatter scanners found in major airports around the world, two scientists say.
The Transportation Security Administration's X-ray backscatter scanners have been the center of a widespread controversy, following concerns from privacy advocates that they take nearly naked photos of people. The trade-off is improved security, of course. Yet Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson, two physics professors at the University of California, San Francisco offer a stark conclusion: They can be easily duped, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Transportation Security.
"It is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology -- ironically because of its large volume, since it is easily confused with normal anatomy," the researchers said in the paper. Kaufman and Carlson conclude that some types of foreign objects can be reliable detected only if they are packed outside the sides of the body, and some well hidden items would be impossible to see even with the scanner.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lawsuit claims arrests were improper because warrants weren't signed!

A pair of local attorneys has filed suit against Mahoning County and its townships over the way arrest warrants are issued.

The lawyers filed the suit Tuesday in federal court on behalf of nine women, most of them former workers at the Go Go Cabaret in Austintown, where many were arrested on drug and other charges.

The attorneys claim in each case, the women were picked up on warrants that had never been signed by a judge or a magistrate, something they claim violated the suspects' Fourth Amendment rights.
Oops! As a reminder...
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The idea here is that only a judge or magistrate can determine probable cause, and thus, his signature is required.

"Particularized suspicion" required for strip searches

A Maryland appeals court has ruled that suspicion is enough for police to conduct a strip search.
The Court of Special Appeals issued the opinion last week, explaining why it overruled a lower court in October.
Prosecutors appealed a Baltimore County judge's pretrial ruling that a bag of cocaine found after a suspect was ordered to remove his pants at a police station was not admissible as evidence.
The suspect was pulled over for speeding following a tip from an informant and arrested after a police dog indicated drugs were in the car.
Retired Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. wrote in the opinion that all that is required is a particularized suspicion that drugs may be hidden on or in the suspect's body.
Here is the full text of the decision:

Maryland v. Harding

Email Protected by Fourth Amendment

United States v. Warshak

Monday, December 13, 2010

The SWAT Team Would Like to See Your Alcohol Permit

From Reason Magazine:
In August a team of heavily armed Orange County, Florida, sheriff’s deputies raided several black- and Hispanic-owned barbershops in the Orlando area. There were more raids in September and October. According to the Orlando Sentinel, barbers and customers were held at gunpoint, some in handcuffs, while police turned the shops upside down. A total of nine shops were raided, and 37 people were arrested.

By all appearances, these raids were drug sweeps. Shop owners told the Sentinel police asked where they were hiding illegal drugs and weapons. But in the end, 34 of the 37 arrests were for 'barbering without a licence,' a misdemeanor for which only three people have ever served jail time in Florida. Two arrests were for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Just one person was arrested on felony drug and weapon charges.

The most disturbing aspect of the raids, however, was that police didn't bother to obtain search warrants. They didn't have to. The raids were conducted in conjunction with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Despite the guns and handcuffs, under Florida law these were licensure inspections, not criminal searches. So no warrant was necessary. Such 'administrative searches' are a disturbingly common end run around the Fourth Amendment.

Betabrand’s ‘Privates’ Underwear Promises To Block TSA Employees From Seeing Your Scanned Junk

From TechCrunch:
There’s been no shortage of outrage over the TSA’s “naked” body scanners, which have been compared to virtual strip searches. For those of you who want to protect your private parts from being ogled by TSA employees, crowdsourced online retail site Betabrand is now offering a scanner-proof undergarment, aptly called “Privates.”

The brainchild of Stephen Russell, the founder and chairman of surveillance search engine and facial recognition company, 3VR Security; Privates essentially distorts the shapes seen in airport body scanners. The garment fuzzes out a traveler’s privates using body scanner resistant materials. But Russell says that the pattern isn’t so dense that it will get you pulled out of line, writing that the “effect is much like wearing a loose sheer piece of clothing.”

Carlsbad Woman Suing TSA for 'Humiliating' Search

From the CarlsbadPatch: reports Carlsbad resident Adrienne Durso is suing the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) after a pat-down in August at the Albuquerque International Sunport.

In a telephone interview, she told the TV station the search was 'heavily concentrating on my breast area where I told her I had a mastectomy the year previous, and it just seemed to go on and on.'

New Jersey looks to ban TSA searches

New Jersey could soon become the epicenter of the growing controversy over the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) passenger screening procedures being implemented at airports nationwide.

Conservative state Senator and tea party favorite Mike Doherty (R) announced that he plans to introduce a bill in the legislature to ban the searches in the Garden State. While the bill is being drafted, Doherty has introduced a resolution and an online petition calling on Congress to immediately review both the screening procedures and mounting passenger complaints of abuse at the hands of TSA officers.

TSA’s New Screening Policies Pose Threat to Civil Liberties

From the Claremont Port Side:
As the height of this year’s holiday travel season approaches, airport crowding may be the least of the average traveler’s worries. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) controversial full body scanner machines, already in use at 70 airports nation-wide despite their debatable effectiveness, and invasive pat-down searches routinely subject travelers to discomfort and humiliation.

According to TSA’s guidelines, “imaging technology screening [full body scans] is optional for all passengers. Passengers who do not wish to receive imagining technology screening will receive alternate screening, including a pat-down.”

However, due to a recent change in TSA policy, these pat-downs have become more invasive. According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) news release entitled “TSA Pat-Down Search Abuse,” “screeners are now authorized to use the front of their hands and to touch areas around breasts and groins.”

TSA on X-Ray Machines: They're Safe

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding the TSA's use of its advanced imaging technology backscatter scanners (a.k.a. full body scanners) in American airports, particularly in light of the busy holiday travel season.

Privacy concerns have been a big part of the controversy, but passenger safety with regards to radiation levels emitted from the machines has also been called into question. According to a recent post on the TSA's blog, the radiation levels emitted by all of the x-ray equipment the TSA uses are within government safety guidelines.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mack: Enhanced TSA Security Screenings Go Too Far

From the Office of Congressman Connie Mack:
Congressman Connie Mack (FL-14) today called the enhanced pat-downs performed by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents an invasion of Americans’ privacy rights, and called on TSA to cease them immediately so Congress can review airport screening policies.

Mack said:

“TSA’s new enhanced security screenings are outrageous and have gone too far. We all want our nation to be safe, but this security must not come at the expense of our freedoms. I’m extremely concerned that TSA’s enhanced pat-downs infringe on individuals’ privacy rights and give the federal government unprecedented power.

“The enhanced pat-downs should cease immediately. Congress and the Administration must examine whether there are other measures we can take such as privatizing TSA or revising the security searches to ensure our national security while protecting one’s rights.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

TSA Told To Tell Children That Groping Them Is A Game... Horrifying Sex Abuse Experts

From Techdirt:
Apparently TSA agents are being told that one way to handle the new groping pat downs for children is to try to make it out to be some sort of 'game.' This is apparently horrifying some sex abuse experts who point out that a common tactic in abuse cases is to tell the kids that they're just 'playing a game.'

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Weekend Interview with John Pistole: In Defense of Scanners and Pat-Downs

From the Wall Street Journal:
Fortunately, for him, John Pistole seems to have a sense of humor. This may be a job requirement now for the post of administrator of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. Along with a thick skin.

The agency is a political lightning rod and the butt of many jokes over its approach to airport security—especially since the TSA expanded the use of full-body screening machines and extensive pat-downs, provoking a national backlash.

Mr. Pistole takes full credit, or blame, for this policy change. He's less eager to claim credit for popularizing a slang meaning for 'junk'—as in San Diego passenger John Tyner's warning at his TSA pat-down, 'If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested.' Or for popularizing the notion of an overweening 'Big Sis' (scrawled in marker on a protesting passenger's naked back at a Salt Lake City TSA check last week) trampling on passenger rights. Or for inspiring the 'Message from TSA' Saturday Night Live skit that went instantly viral. Punch line: 'The TSA: It's our business to touch yours.'

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Harvard Law Students Sue TSA

From the Harvard Law Record:
Two Harvard Law students have filed a federal lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration that claims the use of 'nude body scanners' and new enhanced pat-down techniques at airport security checkpoints are unconstitutional.
Jeffrey Redfern '12 and Anant Pradhan '12 filed the lawsuit Monday in the District Court of Massachusetts. The complaint names Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and TSA Administrator John Pistole as defendants. Beginning in March 2010, the TSA deployed 450 full-body scanners in airports throughout the country. Boston's Logan International Airport has 17 of the full-body scanners at issue in the lawsuit, according to the TSA's website.
The lawsuit claims the mandatory screening techniques violate the students' Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. The suit seeks a permanent injunction against the use of either screening method without reasonable suspicion or probable cause and a declaratory judgment stating that mandatory screening using these techniques is unconstitutional where probable cause or reasonable suspicion do not exist.

DOJ's 'Hotwatch' Real-Time Surveillance of Credit Card Transactions

This article by Christopher Soghoian discusses how law enforcement agencies routinely seek and obtain real-time surveillance of credit card transactions.  The accompanying PPT (in PDF form) can be found below:

DOJ powerpoint presentation on Hotwatch surveillance orders of credit card transactions

The TSA's False Tradeoff

by Bob Murphy at
The national furor over the TSA's new procedures – culminating in yesterday's 'Opt Out Day' – has elicited the typical response from the bureaucracy and its apologists. Why, these invasive scans and 'enhanced pat-downs' are only for your good, in order to ensure safe flying. You don't want another attack, do you?

This is a false tradeoff. Especially in the long run, there is no tension between freedom and safety. If airport security were truly returned to the private sector, air travelers would achieve a much better balance of privacy and legitimate security measures.

Who is really stealing your privacy?

Privacy advocates are up in arms. They say the Obama administration is seeking to increase the government's surveillance powers. The White House is out to require internet companies to keep trapdoors so the government can read any and all messages.

Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the proposal 'a drastic anti-privacy, anti-security, anti-innovation solution in search of a problem.' These privacy advocates remind me of someone who locks his front door only to return home and find that thieves have emptied his home through the back door and the windows he left wide open. These days, the main enemy of privacy is not Big Brother, but a whole bunch of Little Brothers: profit-making corporations.
See the rest of the article here.

Texas Supreme Court rules state workers' birth dates aren't public

From the Dallas Morning News:
The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that the public cannot have access to the birth dates of state employees through the Public Information Act.

The high court's majority sided with the Texas comptroller over the state attorney general and The Dallas Morning News in a major open records decision.

Because 'state employees' privacy interest substantially outweighs the minimal public interest in the information, we hold that disclosure of state employee birth dates would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,' wrote Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The physics and biology of the TSA's backscatter security scanners

From ars technica:
The recent deployment of backscatter scanning devices meant for airline passengers has caused controversies focused on both the privacy issues of the scans and the safety of the devices themselves (not to mention the unpleasant alternative of an aggressive frisking). The discussion of safety issues has been clouded by two competing narratives. On one side, there's radiation exposure that's comically low compared to what comes from simply boarding the aircraft and being lifted above a lot of the Earth's atmosphere. On the other, there are arguments that the sort of exposure generated by backscatter devices is somehow different.

State, local lawmakers seek alternatives to TSA airport screenings

From the Washington Times:
A coach-class rebellion against the Transportation Security Administration is brewing as state and local lawmakers challenge the agency's right to implement its invasive airport-safety protocols.

'I'd like to send Washington a clear signal that these aggressive pat-downs and body scanners may have crossed the line,' said Sean Paige, a member of the Colorado Springs City Council. 'We want to maintain airport security, but need to speak up for the passengers who come through our city.'

He has asked the Colorado Springs airport's aviation commission and director to prepare a briefing on a proposal to replace the TSA with a private security firm. The council is expected to hear the results in January, Mr. Paige said.

CNN Reporter Put On Watch List After Criticizing TSA

More from PrisonPlanet:
In light of new reports alleging that the TSA is creating a watch list of individuals who criticized the agency as a form of collective punishment, it’s revealing to note that CNN journalist Drew Griffin was also put on a TSA watch list immediately after he filed reports critical of the organization back in 2008.

As we highlighted earlier this week, a reported TSA memo was circulated at the height of last month’s opt out controversy which “officially addresses those who are opposed to, or engaged in the disruption of the implementation of the enhanced airport screening procedures as ‘domestic extremists’.”

TSA jokes are funny if you're not the one being assaulted

I guess TSA jokes are funny if you're not the one being assaulted. From
'Everybody in Washington has been talking about the TSA,' said Lovett. 'TSA has been kind of a big story lately. A lot of people tonight have made some jokes about the TSA; I am, too. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, you know. First of all, these things are designed to keep us safe. Second of all, it’s giving a way for, you know, defrocked priests to get their lives back together, give back to the community, lend a ... well, not lend a hand, but you know.'

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mother Kept In “Glass Cage” For Almost An Hour By TSA For Resisting Over Breast Milk

From PrisonPlanet:
Following their own guidelines will not get you anywhere because they make the rules up as they go along.
The latest case of TSA tyranny to hit the headlines comes in the form of a young mother who was subjected to enhanced groping and then shut inside a screening box for almost an hour by agents after she refused to allow them to put her breast milk through an x-ray device, a legitimate request that is even written into the TSA’s own guidelines.
The ordeal, which took place at Phoenix airport earlier this year, was captured on security cameras, which Stacey Armato, who is also a lawyer, gained access to, but only after repeated requests and careful editing by the TSA had taken place.
After being told that her breast milk might have to be put through an x-ray scanner, Ms Armato attempted to show the TSA agents a print out of their own guidelines allowing non x-ray screening for breast milk. This act of serious disobedience resulted in the agent pushing Ms Armato into a glass cage, telling her “to be quiet if you know what’s good for you”, while calling for “back up”.

New East Palo Alto license plate readers will run plates through crime databases

From the Peninsula Press:
By the new year, the East Palo Alto Police Department will be using automatic license plate readers to identify law breakers.

The City Council has agreed to pay for the new devices – including two sets of high-speed cameras and sophisticated computers – with a $37,540 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.
More from the article:
The car-mounted devices can automatically scan all vehicles’ plates within a certain radius of the patrol car, run the information through pre-selected databases and report back immediately to officers if a car is stolen or wanted, according to the East Palo Alto police department. Last year, East Palo Alto tested a license plate reader owned by the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office. Davis said the results were positive.
Police surveillance systems can be controversial. Advocates say they help solve crimes and make people feel safer, especially when residents know the devices are present. Critics worry about invasions of privacy. Most companies that sell traffic cameras and license plate readers recommend that governments advertise the installment of their systems.
Is there really any doubt that these readers will be used to mass scan as many vehicles as possible? What ever happened to probable cause? There are some serious privacy issues here that will undoubtedly be raised as the readers go live.

Black Eyes Peas singer Fergie gets TSA airport security treatment at LAX

From the Mail Online:
Being a celebrity gets you a lot of free stuff and extra privileges - but not when going through airport security.

Black Eyed Peas singer Fergie had to experience the new stricter TSA security rules yesterday at Los Angeles International Airport as she headed to board a flight to New York.

The 35-year-old star had to de-layer and go through the new full body scanners just like everybody else.
I gotta feeling (yeah, I went there) that the TSA is grateful she didn't opt-out. ;-)