Thursday, April 09, 2009
The TSA Strip Search Machines
That's what a screener sees on one version of the "whole body imaging" machines that the TSA is making plans to move front and center into airport checkpoints. The woman in the image, a TSA official posing to show how this new marvel works, was fully clothed.
Other models of the machines being tested show even more detail, I am told. Two basic technologies have been involved in the tests: Backscatter and millimeter wave.
The TSA Web site has a lot of detail on this and other new technologies in the works.
Here's an excellent summary, with links, by William Saletan in today's Slate.
One of the questions -- aside from whether people will actually put up with this (I mean, they're going to be running your kids through these things) is the quesestion of whether the images can be stored.
Yes they can.
Will they be?
No, says the TSA. The machines' image storage capability have been and be disabled, says the TSA.
We shall see. Has anybody grabbed the domain name celebritiesstrippedat theairport.com yet? And all of the creepy variations?
Here's the TSA's official position on storing the images, from a "privacy impact assessment" the agency posted last fall.
"Introduction. P. 4)
While the equipment has the capability of collecting and storing an
image, the image storage functions will be disabled by the
manufacturer before the devices are placed in an airport and will
mot have the capability to be activated by operators. Images will be
maintained on the screen only for as long as it takes to resolve any
anomalies; if a TSO sees a suspicious area or prohibited item, the
image will remain on the screen until the item is cleared either by
the TSO recognizing the item on the screen, or by a physical
screening by the TSO with the individual. The image is deleted in
order to permit the next individual to be screened. The equipment
does not retain the image. In addition, TSOs will be prohibited
from bringing any device into the viewing area that has any
photographic capability, including cell phone cameras. Rules
governing the operating procedures of TSOs using this WBI equipment
are documented in standard operating procedures (SOP), and
compliance with these procedures is reviewed on a routine basis.
Due the sensitivity of the technical and operational details, the
SOP will not be publicized, however, TSOs receive extensive training
prior to operating WBI technology.
(4. Principle of Minimization . p. 7)
Principle: DHS should only collect PII that is directly relevant and
necessary to accomplish the specified purpose(s) and only retain PII
for as long as is necessary to fulfill the specified purpose(s). PII
should be disposed of in accordance with DHS records disposition
schedules as approved by the National Archives and Records
WBI technologies identify objects on the outside of the physical
body and do not reveal implants beneath the surface of the skin. TSA
does not save the image in connection with the use of WBI
technologies. While the technology can be configured to store
images, TSA considered the privacy issues of this storage feature
and carefully evaluated all potential uses of the images for
training, investigations, or possible prosecution of persons caught
with prohibited items. Based on this evaluation, TSA decided to have
the manufacturer disable the data storage capabilities prior to
delivery to TSA. Individual operators do not have the capability to
reverse the capability to enable image retention. As a result, the
image will only be available during the time the individual is being
screened and will be deleted immediately thereafter.
(7. Principle of Security)
Principle: DHS should protect PII, including images, through
appropriate security safeguards against risks such as loss,
unauthorized access or use, destruction, modification, or unintended
or inappropriate disclosure.
WBI data is transmitted between the checkpoint and the viewer by a
landline connection and cannot be lost, modified, or disclosed.
Backscatter images are encrypted. Millimeter wave data is
transmitted in a proprietary format that cannot be deciphered
without the proprietary technology. TSA’s decision not to retain
images mitigates further data storage security issues. In addition,
the computers used to process and present the images will be locked
with both physical and software controls to prevent the insertion of
any storage media or other communication devices. Administrative
controls limit access to the remote viewing rooms to TSOs and
prohibit TSOs from bringing photographic devices, to include cell
phone cameras, into the room in which images are viewed."