Friday, May 07, 2010

TSA Objection to Strip-Search-Scanner Photo

The TSA objects to the photo in my previous post (see below) purporting to show a young woman's body as seen in a whole body imager.

It is, evidently, a photo-shopped image, a fake. Here's the link to the TSA "myth-buster" post debunking that particular image.

However, the image shown above left, of an older woman, is genuine. It shows a female TSA research official in a test of one of the backscatter versions of the whole body imaging machines. Backscatter machines are one of two technologies used in whole body images. The other is millimeter-wave technology. Here is the TSA's explanation of the differences between the two.

The TSA maintains that images as detailed as the one shown above won't be routinely used during airport security operations. The agency says the above image, from several years ago when the technology was first being tested, is out of date. Software was later developed to enable the screener viewing the body images to blur or pixelate private body areas.

In Miami, where a fight among TSA officers followed training on the machines, a supervisor allegedly ridiculed a screener's allegedly small penis as it appeared on the image. Evidently the blurring or pixelating was not sufficient to obscure the area in dispute, whatever its size.

Via, here is the police report on the Miami incident.

Hey, you in the back row: Cut out that laughing!

Meanwhile, as security critics have pointed out, any smart terrorist, reassured that private body parts will be blurred in the image, probably figures it's a good idea to tuck contraband where the sun don't shine. So the blurring, image-pixelating rationale needs some work.

Incidentally, the TSA has also said repeatedly that the whole-body imagers cannot store images. In fact the machines can store images, as the TSA told me 18 months ago. It's just that they will be configured not to store them. This is, however, in dispute.

As to the Three Stooges-like incident in Miami, TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee sent the following via e-mail:

"TSA has a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence. Per our normal
procedures, TSA is moving quickly to act on the security officer charged
with assault. At the same time, we are investigating to determine
whether other officers may have violated procedures during a training
session with coworkers and committed professional misconduct. The
training was internal and at no time was anyone from the traveling
public involved."

Incidentally, Michael Chertoff, the former head of the Homeland Security department, of which the TSA is a part, now runs a security company that has done consulting work for companies vying to sell whole-body image machines to the TSA. When he ran Homeland Security, Chertoff was a prominent advocate of using the machines.

The TSA has been operating without a permanent director in charge for 16 months.


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