Jun 18 2013

Our comments on the TSA’s virtual strip-search machines

Today the Identity Project filed our comments on the TSA’s proposed rules to require travelers to submit to “screening” using virtual strip-search machines (“Advanced Imaging Technology” in TSA-speak.

You have until next Monday, June 24, 2013 to submit your own comments.

Here’s the introductory summary of our comments:

Regulations of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at 49 CFR § 1540.107 currently require would-be air travelers to “submit to screening”, but neither define nor limit the meaning of “submit” or “screening”. Under this NPRM, the TSA proposes to add a new paragraph (d) to § 1540.107, which would authorize the TSA to include “screening technology used to detect concealed anomalies without requiring physical contact with the individual being screened” as part of the “screening” to which would-be passengers must “submit” (those terms remaining otherwise undefined and unlimited).

The proposed rule would require travelers to submit to virtual strip-searches and/or manual groping of their genitals, as a condition of the exercise of their right to travel by air by common carrier.

The Identity Project objects to the proposed rule on the following grounds:

1. The TSA fails to recognize that travel by air by common carrier is a right, not a privilege to be granted or denied by the government or subjected to arbitrary or unjustified conditions. As a condition on the exercise of a right, a requirement to submit to searches or other aspects of “screening” is subject to strict scrutiny. The burden is on the TSA to show that the current and proposed requirements will actually be effective for a permissible purpose within the jurisdiction of the TSA, and that they are the least restrictive alternative that will serve that purpose. The TSA has not attempted to asses the proposed rule according to this standard, and has not met this burden.

2. The TSA errs in claiming that, “Individuals … are not included in the definition of a small entity” in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA). Nothing in the statutory definition of “small entities” excludes individuals, and in fact many individual travelers affected by the proposed rule are “small entities” as that term is used in the RFA. The TSA must publish and allow comment on a new RFA analysis that takes into consideration the impact of the proposed rule on individuals in their capacity as “small entities”. If the TSA fails to do so, OMB must disapprove the proposed rule, pursuant to the RFA.

3. In the absence of any definitions of “submit” or “screening”, the current and proposed rules are unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. Travelers subject to the rules can’t tell what is prohibited or what is required as a condition of travel by air by common carrier, or which actions at TSA checkpoints are and aren’t subject to TSA civil penalties. The rules reach a significant amount of protected conduct by denying the right to travel to a significant number of individuals who pose no threat to aviation.

The proposed rule should be withdrawn, and the practices it would purport to authorize should be suspended. If the proposed rule is not withdrawn by the TSA, it should be rejected by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for failure to include the analysis required by the RFA. The TSA should open a notice-and-comment rulemaking to define “submit” and “screening”, as those terms are used in 49 USC § 44901, 49 CFR § 1540.107, and 49 CFR § 1540.109, with sufficient specificity to enable prospective travelers to know what actions are required and what actions are proscribed.

You can see all 5,000+ comments submitted to the TSA here.

4 thoughts on “Our comments on the TSA’s virtual strip-search machines

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