“Inexcusable”: TSA STILL Refusing To Release Naked Scanner Safety Reports
February 9, 2011
– Senate amendment introduced to make misuse of images a federal crime punishable by prison
- Further amendment introduced to force all scanners to use “privacy enhancing” software
- TSA once again lies, tells media machines are not capable of storing images
The chairman of a House oversight committee on homeland defense has labeled “inexcusable” the TSA’s continued refusal to release it’s internal reports on the safety of radiation firing airport body scanners.
“The public has a right to know, and there isn’t something so sensitive that requires holding it back,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. tells USA Today.
The newspaper filed Freedom of information requests for the reports over two months ago, prompting members of congress to get involved, with a group led by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass, demanding that the TSA release the documents.
Two months on, the TSA says it is still reviewing the documents to ensure they do not contain any sensitive information that could be a threat to national security.
TSA spokeswoman Giselle Barry told USA Today that the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is investigating the adequacy of the TSA’s X-ray inspection program at the request of Markey, yet still refused to confirm when the safety reports would be made available.
The safety of new body scanners has been particularly questioned in light of an independent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carried out in 2004, found that some baggage scanners, which emit the same type of X-rays, were in violation of federal radiation standards, and were emitting two or three times beyond the agreed safe limit.
A further 2008 CDC report noted that some X-ray machines were missing protective lead curtains or had had safety features disabled by TSA employees with duct tape, paper towels and other materials.
TSA employees themselves have also voiced concern over the safety of the scanners. Workers are reportedly unhappy with the fact that they are being kept in the dark by their employers, despite repeated requests for information.
“We don’t think the agency is sharing enough information,” said Milly Rodriguez, occupational health and safety specialist at the American Federation of Government Employees, the union that represents TSA workers.
“Radiation just invokes a lot of fear.” she added.
According to the USA Today report, several TSA employees have expressed their concerns to the CDC:
…a TSA employee at an unidentified airport asked CDC in June to examine concerns about radiation exposures from standing near the new full-body X-ray scanners for hours a day. The CDC said it didn’t have authority to do a hazard assessment unless three or more current employees at one location made a joint request, according to a September letter from the CDC to the unnamed worker. The CDC provided the letter to USA TODAY.
The TSA is responsible for inspecting the scanners and producing safety reports itself, rather than the FDA, because they are not classed as medical devices.
“It should send some flashing red lights when they won’t allow the public to review that data,” Rep. Chaffetz has noted. Chaffetz oversaw the passage in the House last year of an amendment to ban “strip-search” imaging at airports altogether.
“You don’t have to look at my wife and 8-year-old daughter naked to secure an airplane,” Chaffetz said at the time.
“You can actually see the sweat on somebody’s back. You can tell the difference between a dime and a nickel. If they can do that, they can see things that quite frankly I don’t think they should be looking at in order to secure a plane,” Chaffetz told the House.
Considering scores of warnings from scientists, more TSA workers should be concerned over the levels of radiation they are being exposed to and are being asked to expose the public to.
Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins school of medicine recently told AFP that “statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays”.
“…we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he added.
John Sedat, a University of California at San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the National Academy of Sciences tells CNet that the machines have “mutagenic effects” and will increase the risk of cancer. Sedat previously sent a letter to the White House science Czar John P. Holdren, identifying the specific risk the machines pose to children and the elderly.
The letter stated:
“it appears that real independent safety data do not exist… There has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.”
The TSA has repeatedly stated that going through the machines is equal to the radiation encountered during just two minutes of a flight. However, this does not take into account that the scanning machines specifically target only the skin and the muscle tissue immediately beneath.
The scanners are similar to C-Scans and fire ionizing radiation at those inside which penetrates a few centimeters into the flesh and reflects off the skin to form a naked body image.
The firing of ionizing radiation at the body effectively “unzips” DNA, according to scientific research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The research shows that even very low doses of X-ray can delay or prevent cellular repair of damaged DNA, yet pregnant women and children will be subjected to the process as new guidelines including scanners are adopted.
The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety concluded in their report on the matter that governments must justify the use of the scanners and that a more accurate assessment of the health risks is needed.
Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, according to the report, adding that governments should consider “other techniques to achieve the same end without the use of ionizing radiation.”
“The Committee cited the IAEA’s 1996 Basic Safety Standards agreement, drafted over three decades, that protects people from radiation. Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,”reported Bloomberg.
Scientists at Columbia University also entered the debate recently, warning that the dose emitted by the naked x-ray devices could be up to 20 times higher than originally estimated, likely contributing to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma which affects the head and neck.
“If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The population risk has the potential to be significant,” said Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s center for radiological research.
Despite all these warnings, The Department of Homeland Security claims that the scanners are completely safe, pointing to “independent” verification from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, both federal government bodies.
Meanwhile, the TSA has once again repeated the same lie that the machines cannot record the naked images that are produced as air travelers pass through them.
In response to the proposal of an amendment to make the misuse of scanner images a federal crime punishable by up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, a spokesman for the DHS told the AP that “the body scanners used by Transportation Security Administration workers at airports are not capable of storing, copying or transmitting images.”
“Each time a passenger is scanned, he said, the image of the previously scanned passenger is deleted.” said the DHS’ Nicholas Kimball.
Yet, as we have previously detailed, the images that show in detail the naked genitals of men, women and children that have passed through the scanners can indeed be transmitted and printed.
As reported by Declan McCullagh of CNET earlier this year, “The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.”
The proof comes in the form of a letter (PDF), obtained by The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), in which William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, admits that “approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine” used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse.
EPIC says it has also obtained more than 100 images of electronically stripped individuals from the scanning devices used at federal courthouses. The disclosures come as part of a settlement of an EPIC Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Marshals Service.
Brijot, the manufacturer of the body scanning equipment in question, also admits that its machine can store up to 40,000 images and records.
EPIC, has filed two further lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security over the scanners, claiming that the DHS has refused to release at least 2,000 images it has stored from scanners currently in use in U.S. airports.
EPIC’s lawsuit argues that the body scanners violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits “unreasonable” searches, as well as the Privacy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, referencing religious laws about modesty.
The group points to a further document (PDF) it has obtained from DHS showing that the machines used by the department’s TSA are not only able to record and store naked body images, but that they are mandated to do so.
The TSA has admitted that this is the case, but claims that it is for training and testing purposes only, maintaining that the body scanners used at airports cannot “store, print or transmit images”.
This was confirmed in a letter sent to Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, at approximately the same time the government initially claimed the machines are safe and cannot save images. In fact, this ability is a government requirement.
“TSA requires AIT machines to have the capability to retain and export imagines (sic) only for testing, training, and evaluation purposes,” states a Homeland Security letter dated February 24, 2010 and signed by Gale D. Rossides, Acting Administrator.
The machines indeed store and transmit images. According to Rossides, however, this ability is limited to engineers, training contractors, and “Z” level users. “Z” level users are described as select lab personnel from the TSA’s Office of Security Technology.
The images are apparently also sent to the TSA’s Threat Mitigation Lab.
“In complying with our Freedom of Information Act request, the Marshals Service has helped the public more fully understand the capabilities of these devices,” EPIC President Marc Rotenberg has said in a statement. “But the DHS continues to conceal the truth from American air travelers who could be subject to similar intrusive recorded searches in U.S. airports.”
As if it was needed, further evidence also points to the fact that the images are actively being transmitted and printed in airports.
Furthermore, if there is no capability for the devices to save, distribute and print images, then how on earth have news organizations obtained print outs of such images like the one above?
The TSA and the DHS have repeatedly told the media and the public the same lie, that the scanners cannot store images. If they are willing to promulgate outright lies regarding the performance of the machines in this respect why should anyone take their word for it when they say the machines are 100% safe?
Another Senate Amendment has been introduced this week by Senator Udall (D-NM) that would require the TSA to install “Automatic Target Recognition” software, in all body scanners by January 1, 2012.
The software ensures that the images produced by the machines are generic human outlines, rather than graphic naked images.
However, as we have previously highlighted, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the software merely place a mask over the naked image, which the machine is still capable of storing.
“…keep in mind that filters can be enabled and disabled by the operator.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC has noted.