TSA lies again about what the strip-search machines see

Already this week the TSA was caught in a lie about what it likes to call whole body imaging (virtual strip search) machines, when the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) obtained documents showing that, despite TSA claims that “this state-of-the-art technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image,” the TSA actually requires all of these capabilities — image storage, printing, and transmission — as part of the contract specifications for the body scanners.

But the TSA can’t seem to keep their nose from growing: the post in their official propaganda blog responding to EPIC’s analysis of TSA documents contains even more lies about what they see when they look under your clothes with these machines.

According to the TSA blog, “Below, you will see accurate examples of what our officers see while using advanced imaging technology. Anything else you see is inaccurate.”

Above, we’ve linked directly to the images on the TSA website, exactly as sized and posted by them.

In fact, it’s the images posted by the TSA that are inaccurate and misleading. The actual images seen by the people in the back room (they watch you through your clothes, but you can’t watch them) are: (1) full-screen, not thumbnail-sized like those the TSA posted in their blog, (2) higher-resolution than those on the TSA blog, and (3) capable of being zoomed even larger, on the actual TSA displays, using the magnifying-glass tool in the lower right corner of the TSA-provided thumbnails.

Accurate images are visible in the video below (although even if you click through to the full-screen version the video doesn’t have as high resolution as the displays used by the TSA, especially when they zoom in on areas of the body that attract their interest):

Note also that the video clearly demonstrates that the TSA policy for pat-down searches to be performed by a person of the same gender won’t be applied to the virtual strip-searchers.

The TSA website says that, “Multiple signs informing passengers about the technology, including sample images, are displayed in plain sight at the security checkpoints, in front of the advanced imaging units.” When the signs are displayed, however, the “sample images” — like the ones above from the TSA website — are only a small fraction of the size and resolution of those the scanner operator sees.

EPIC has now filed another FOIA lawsuit against the TSA for failing to disclose what the images look like. Notably, the EPIC complaint filed in court today confirms that our experience with the ongoing TSA FOIA black hole wasn’t an isolated incident. EPIC’s request for expedited FOIA processing was made on July 2, 2009 — more than six months ago — and referred to the TSA by the DHS on July 16, 2009. On July 31, 2009, EPIC filed an administrative appeal of the constructive denial of its request. An expedited request should have been acted on within 10 days, and an appeal within twenty days. But to date, according to the complaint, the TSA has made no response whatsoever to either the request or the appeal. In our experience, this is typical of the TSA’S complete contempt for the FOIA law.

We aren’t reassured by the TSA’s further claim in the same blog post that, “These machines are not networked, so they cannot be hacked.” Apparently they’ve never heard of an inside job, or anyone hacking a computer from the keyboard. (Security hint to the TSA: The keyboard is the easy way, compared to having to carry out an attack over a network.) That just reconfirms that the TSA’s threat model is grossly deficient and that they aren’t really even trying to rein in the temptations (can you say, “naked celebrity pix”?) that the virtual strip-searchers inevitably will face.

Finally, the TSA is still saying that “Use of advanced imaging technology is optional to all passengers.” What they don’t say is that your other “option” will be to submit to a full manual pat-down, regardless of whether you would have set off the metal detector. So if the alternative to a virtual strip-search is a non-virtual strip search, can someone explain to us how that’s a “choice” that should make us more willing to submit to either option?

If we have to be exposed to the TSA, maybe we should just expose ourselves when we get to the airport.

P.S. We forgot to mention the TSA’s claim that no 8-year-old is on the no-fly list, debunked today in the New York Times. Maybe 8-year-old Mikey Hicks isn’t on a watch list, but his name is, and the effect is the same: He can’t fly without getting the 3rd degree. What did that entail? We can’t show you. The TSA demands the right to look (and feel) under your clothes, but they wouldn’t let Mikey’s mother take pictures of how he was frisked.

38 Responses to “TSA lies again about what the strip-search machines see”

  1. Jesse Says:

    I don’t know if you saw this or not, but I remember Rapiscan bragging about their 25 million dollar order from the TSA a few months ago. The pants guy had nothing to do with it, the order was already placed. See the press release here:

  2. Consumer Travel Alliance » TSA’s nose grows as they explain whole-body scanners Says:

    […] Originally published by Edward Hasbrouck on PapersPlease.org. […]

  3. TSA’s nose grows as they explain whole-body scanners Says:

    […] Originally published by Edward Hasbrouck on PapersPlease.org. […]

  4. Paul Says:

    2 things. As someone with metal in my body I regularly get the pat down. I don’t find it very bothersome but would like to point out that based on all my pat downs I could have a bomb in my pants and they still wouldn’t catch it with that. (It is also VERY questionable that the WBI machines would either.)

    Second the TSA spin on the NY Times article will be he’s not on the no fly list he’s on the selectee list and can fly after his identity has been vetted to determine he isn’t he person of interest they are looking for,

  5. Dennis Lee Wilson Says:

    There are ALWAYS alternatives!

    Instead of being a victim, BOYCOTT!!

    If you cannot afford a private airplane, rediscover the beauty of North America via private automobile. I have, and it really IS beautiful!!

  6. Paul Says:

    Dennis unfortunately boycotting is not an option for those who need to fly for their work. Also traveling across the country by car is only an option if you have the free time to do so, again not an option for many people.

  7. Dennis Lee Wilson Says:

    I neglected to mention the enormous efficiency of telecommuting around the world on the web.

  8. Vigilância e Privacidade: Compras de scanners para aeroportos decididas meses antes « O Vigia Says:

    […] o que me chamou à atenção foi um comentário a esta notícia e o qual eu verifiquei, que indica que a aquisição pela TSA de diversos destes equipamentos à […]

  9. Tamara Pearce Says:

    If everyone boycotted for just a short time, it wouldn’t last too long. As a long time airline employee, I cannot believe that people are willing to put-up with this total violation of your right to privacy, but it seems that the Constitution just doesn’t that much to American’s anymore. I am hoping for a massive,wide-spread boycott of air travel and as an employee, I will not be going through the naked body scanners. I will change careers before I subject myself to that nonsense!

  10. Allen Says:

    Look on the bright side. We’ll see a lot more naked celebrities once this technology is embraced. Oh, yeah, no we won’t because they have the power and money to sue and intimidate the TSA to prevent their liberties from being infringed.

  11. Ryan Says:

    You’ve revealed something i never knew.I was not expecting this from TSA.They shouldn’t hide anything from travelers.

  12. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » TSA budget: 1000 more strip-search machines Says:

    […] from 2009 to 2011, with most of that going toward the purchase of “up to 1,000″ new virtual strip-search (”Whole Body Imaging” or, in the latest euphemistic language of the budget, […]

  13. TSA budget: 1,000 more strip-search machines Says:

    […] dollars from 2009 to 2011, with most of that going toward the purchase of “up to 1,000? new virtual strip-search (”Whole Body Imaging” or, in the latest euphemistic language of the budget, “Advanced Imaging […]

  14. Consumer Travel Alliance » TSA budget: 1,000 more strip-search machines Says:

    […] dollars from 2009 to 2011, with most of that going toward the purchase of “up to 1,000? new virtual strip-search (”Whole Body Imaging” or, in the latest euphemistic language of the budget, “Advanced Imaging […]

  15. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » “No scan, no fly.” What can a would-be traveler do? Says:

    […] any rule that doesn’t meet the test of necessity, including not just mandatory submission to body scanners but also extra-judicial no-fly orders or inability to present government-issued […]

  16. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » TSA, DHS unresponsive to human rights complaints Says:

    […] They also completely ignore our mention of international treaties, which are likely to become a growing issue not just for the DHS and TSA but for their counterparts imposing similar restrictions on freedom of movement in other countries, such as mandatory submission to virtual strip searches. […]

  17. LifeStream Digest for February 24th | BryanSays.com Says:

    […] Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » TSA lies again about what the strip-search machines see […]

  18. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » U.S. raising fees for travel credentials and permissions Says:

    […] from Canadian airports, both domestic and international. Why the higher fees? To pay for more virtual strip-search machines (”body […]

  19. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » Heathrow body scanner operator: “‘I love those gigantic tits” Says:

    […] as the TSA continues to claim that virtual strip-search machines (body scanners, “whole body imaging”, or in the latest TSA euphemism “advanced […]

  20. Eric Fink Says:

    Once again the government is enjoining its citizens from the free pursuit of travel and recreation. Wether it is the unceasing pressure to get an automated toll collection device in every car (which can also track where and when you go and how fast you get there). A GPS in every cell phone ostensibly to be able to find you in an emergency. our rights and privacy are being eliminated at a rate that would do Stalin and Kim Jong-il proud. the analogy made on the John Stewart show about our representatives following the same pattern that professional wrestlers do in there story lines is so true as to almost be laughable if it did not make me so afraid. Unfortunately there will be no great outcry, no demands for truth and the same fools that now govern will continue to sell this country out for money and power. I fear and am saddened for my grandchildren to come, America is sliding into a fascist society and becoming a third world power as we blog. Our only hope lies in going to another planet and starting over (I know its a pipe dream but don’t we all have them?) Until then keep up the good fight and remember that one person can make a differance.

  21. Doug Says:

    If you can take the train! Wide seats you can walk around at any time and electrical outlets for most seats (on Amtrak). You can even bring your own food. Again it is an option if you are some place with trains and the time to travel.

  22. Dian Says:

    The TSA website claims the AIT is optional, however today at CMH I had NO CHOICE. They also patted me down, and reprimanded me for because of a wallet.

  23. SteveS Says:

    Backscatter actual images (2006)
    Note that software and hardware improvements over 4 years certainly has made the pictures better!




  24. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » TSA reaches out to the Identity Project Says:

    […] “Whole-Body Imaging” (WBI) in the latest TSA-speak) are being used.  We suggested that the signs should include whole-body images at the same size, scale, and resolution as the displays u…, when the display is zoomed in on a portion of the body to its maximum magnification. […]

  25. Donny Jones Says:

    Pretty intrusive but still better than the old fashioned strip search me thinks!

  26. Things People Do: TSA « the Cuttlebot Says:

    […] 5. TSA lies again about what the strip search machines see Papers Please […]

  27. Porky Says:

    Ain’t no queer gonna grab my hog!
    I’ll drive …

  28. candou4fun2 Says:

    we don’t need these machines, they won’t see this it was revealed in the special report that intelligence agents for Britain’s MI5 service found that Muslim doctors trained at some of Britain’s leading teaching hospitals had returned to their own countries to fit surgical implants filled with explosives.

    The report documented that women suicide bombers recruited by al-Qaida were known to have had the explosives inserted in their breasts under techniques similar to breast enhancing surgery. The lethal explosives – usually PETN (pentaerythritol Tetrabitrate) – are inserted during the operation inside the plastic shapes. The breast is then sewn up.

    The report said similar surgery has been performed on male suicide bombers. In their cases, the explosives are inserted in the appendix area or in a buttock. Both are parts of the body that diabetics use to inject themselves with their prescribed drugs.

  29. Angelo Says:

    We should take a page out of the “civil-disobedience” book of Dr. ML King … in particular a special week of mass rebellion against the TSA procedures. Like Rosa Parks.

    We need to organize a LARGE group of patriotic Americans who refuse to forever be subjected to such humiliating treatment to strip down to their skivvies and a T-shirt with anti-TSA slogans (MEN) and wear corsets and girdles and feminine pads (WOMEN). The men should walk through the porno scanners and the women opt out of the scanners to get the sexual assault (protected by the girdles and pads).

    The group should insist that police officers be present to witness the virtual and physical assaults, and immediately after, lodge criminal complaints with the police office at the airport (if convenient or upon return to city of origin).

    Call in the news media to cover the protests and let the entire country see what is being done. Half the sheeple who haven’t actually experienced these demeaning new procedures, and who think “it’s no problem”, will see the naked truth. LOL.

    Everyone should get to the airports around the country about 4 hours ahead of scheduled flights so as not to miss them.

    I, and I suspect tens of thousands like me, will definitely plan to fly that week and participate in the protest if some group organizes it!

  30. Thomas Gilmore Says:

    Does anyone feel that the ss is reinstated as the tsa they don’t answer to anyone and are allowed to terroize the public at will. They are backed by the Goverment don’t tell policy. This is not safty but cattle hurding with no real effect.

  31. Asher Holley Says:

    These machines terrify me. What the TSA is doing is dehumanizing. You can obviously see genitalia in the scanning images. I have a mental illness that prevents me from going through the machine or submitting to a ‘grope-down’. Please read my article about my situation and raise more awareness and activism against these awful machines. Kudos to this article!

    Article: http://www.costumesfc.com/2010/11/flying-in-the-usa/

  32. JOe Says:

    Here is further proof of what the images really look like and just how agents can “zoom” in and sharpen detail on any portion of your body they like. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iN-AX1D1kAk&feature=related THese scanners leave NOTHING to the imagination. While there may be some who don’t mind being virtual strip searched many of us do. To do this to anyone under the age of consent is breathtakingly in appropriate. If that’s not bad enough there are some of the scanner devices (the large blue box ones) that have the display screens of the naked image on the other side of them. This means other passengers who have passed thru security can turn around and see your naked image.

  33. CherieSondrol Says:

    Refused the body scan so had the pat down. Went into private area instead of the public viewing area. They touch where no one is supposed to touch. And they, the agents were rude. Are the skies really safer since I was Randomly Chosen? Think not.

  34. Liam Says:

    I am from holland in europe and find it a disgusting way for a goverment to treat its own people, I hope the citizens of the US unite as one to save their wonderful republic

  35. Jeffrey J Smith Says:

    The TSA is NOW going foward with advanced plans to “monitor” Train Travel and Highway
    individual vehicle travel. The TSA own internal documents detail what thier plans REALLY are.
    Hard evidence shows that once the public is made to accept what is occuring at airports, TSA will b ordered to expand operations to Train and car traffic. There will be at least random strip
    searches includign childred and infants. On highways, the TSA has plans to do random stops and pat downs and whole car X-Rays. ALL this is in TSA and other government OPEN documents.
    And of course when there is a dispute, a father or mother objecting to their daughter being “patted down” you can expect pronouncements that a “terrorist suspect” was aprehended..

    The bottom line is that Train and Car travel is next and you may escape what TSA is doing at airports by taking the train or driving. But your espape is NOT going to be for long.

    The ONLY way this is going to stop is that american stop talking and take action. First of all,
    each and every one of the TSA personnel who committs any such outrage should PERSONNALLY
    be the object of serious legal acton. First everyone should approach your local district attorney.
    demanding they enfoce the laws that are already on the books. If a local cop EVER did what TSA does everyday, he would be arrested. Unless there is a real emergency, no police are allowed
    physical contact with sensitive areas. Then, anyone who was touched should bring legal action
    on an individual basis. If every TSA worker had to personnaly defend dozens of lawsuits their
    attitude would change pronto. The federal courts are, by far, the best avenue for a lawsuit
    against the agency at large but ALSO a seperate federal and state lawsuit against the agent
    who fondled a family member. One incident then = one or more lawsuits. Right now Americans
    are complaining sometimes openly protesting what is occuring. In other words you are talking
    among your patriot circles and howling at the moon. The TSA doesnt care. ONLY when Americans
    take INDIVIDUAL ACTION will TSA be forced to stop the experiment. The legal actions have to be serious and well written. But a lot of that is pre writtten in texts for law schools that are easily
    obtained. In other words; legal Boilerplate.

    ONLY when you make TSA and any other agencies who contributed to this very serious breech of American’s rights LEGALLY LIABLE and flood the courts with lawsuits will you see any change,

  36. Dagmar Kinan Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. Ill be passing on the link to friends to check it out themselves. I will probably throw a link to this on one of my websites.

  37. Papers, Please! » Blog Archive » TSA spreads FUD on “Opt Out and Film” week Says:

    […] This week is national Opt Out and Film Week. Across the country, travelers will be documenting the TSA’s practices of groping the genitals of anyone who wants to exercise their right to travel without “voluntarily” submitting to an x-ray or RF virtual strip search. […]

  38. OTN Reveils TSA Security Theater At Detroit Airport | Roadblock Revelations Says:

    […] For those interested in more detailed information regarding TSA Body Scanning equipment, Papers Please has a good article on the subject located here. […]

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