Day of Action, Monday, June 17: Tell the TSA to End Nude Body Scanners

With less than two weeks left to comment on the ‘nude body scanners’ in airports — and civil liberties on the front pages — it’s time for a final push to get the word out.  So a loose coalition of grassroots volunteers and privacy and civil liberties organizations is calling for a “Day of Action” on Monday June 17.  If you’re sick and tired of wasting billions of dollars and giving up your rights and dignity whenever toy fly, read on for how you can help — and why it matters.

Effective comments – and why they matter

Back in 2010, EPIC sued the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the “advanced imaging technology” (aka nude body scanners) from being used as primary screening in airports.   The court ruled against them on most counts, but agreed that the TSA had violated the law by failing to get public feedback before introducing the machines.  The TSA finally started the ‘rulemaking process’ in March this year, and the deadline is on June 24.

People and organizations can submit comments online via regulations.gov, or by FAX or mail (see the first comment for information on FAX and mail).  The number of comments sent in to the TSA matter. If the TSA doesn’t get a lot of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any problem with the body scanners or TSA’s other security procedures. But if there’s a much more vocal response, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them – they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period.

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Tell the TSA what you think about nude body scanners!

Airline passengers have been walking through full-body scanners for nearly five years, but only now are fliers getting a chance to officially tell the federal government what they think about the screening machines.

In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the Transportation Security Administration could continue to use the scanners as a primary method of screening passengers. But the court ordered the TSA to give the public a 90-day comment period, which the agency did not do when it launched the scanning program.

The TSA began the comment period online in March, and so far it has been getting an average of 26 comments a day — nearly all of which blast the TSA and the scanners for a variety of reasons.

— Hugo Martin, Public Gets Chance to Comment on TSA’s Full-body scanners, LA Times, April 21

There are now over 4500 comments on regulations.gov, and sentiment continue to be overwhelmingly against the scanners.   There are so many reasons to oppose them, it’s hard to know where to start: rights, effectiveness, cost, fairness, culture … see the Twitter Privacy chat discussion or EPIC’s preliminary analysis (PDF) for more details.  So it’s a golden opportunity for the loose but broad coalition fighting for a more sensible and less abusive approach to airport security to get the word out about the commenting  period and encourage people to submit their own comments.

This is one of the situations where numbers are important.  If the TSA only gets a small number of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any issues and it’s only a “tiny but vocal” minority who is complaining.  But if there are a lot of comments, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them (they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period).  A loud enough outcry is likely to get media coverage and maybe even help politicians realize that hey, there’s an issue here that can make them very popular with their constituents!

So to start with, please file your own comments.  The most effective comments use your own language, instead of cut-and-paste boilerplate.  EPIC recommends that commenters support “Regulatory Alternative #3″ (the use of walk through metal detectors and explosive trace detection devices), support the right of passengers to opt out, describe the devices as “Nude Body Scanners”, and include personal experiences.   See below for instructions on how to use the regulations.gov to submit comments — as well as how to send them in by FAX or mail if you prefer.

Once you’ve done that, here are a few easy ways you can help get the word out:

  1. Share links on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and whatever social networks you hang out on.  A few good links to share: EPIC’s summary page, the direct link to the “docket” on regulations.gov, and the Slashdot thread, articles from Mashable and the Verge, or this blog post!
  2. Email links to people and mailing lists you think will be interested.
  3. Look for tweets on the #tsacomments and #tsa hashtags (or from @TSAComments) and retweet them
  4. Look for good comments on regulations.gov, and tweet them or share them on your favorite social networks.
  5. If you blog, write a short post.   Consider including your comments (or at least excerpts from them), and make sure to include a link to the regulations.gov page.
  6. Sign up for Reddit, and vote up TSA-related stories.  [Why Reddit?  It’s been a hotbed of activism on other civil liberties issues like SOPA and CISPA, and there’s a lot of political discussion there as well, so there are likely to be a lot of allies there.]

Question: what other suggestions do people have?

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Anti-TSA video goes viral!

Jonathan Corbett’s video has over 800,000 views in the last couple days, despite YouTube censoring it for a while (possibly because the  title has “nude” in it).    The Travel Underground thread is the epicenter.  The rough chronology:

Mike Masnick at TechDirt and Steven Frischling on Flying With Fish point out that there’s nothing new here: security experts have been talking about the scanners’ high error rate and vulnerabilities to exploitation for years.  But video footage makes it very compelling.  And the spread through the tech community highlights that the same kind of grassroots coalitions that mobilized against SOPA are possible on other civil liberties issues — like the TSA, for example, and the PATRIOT Act and FISA next time they come up for renewal.

There’s plenty of other learning too, so it’ll be interesting to watch things unfold. Stay tuned!

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Imagine this … (DRAFT!)

DRAFT !!!!   Revised version published on I Will Opt Out as What Just Happened?
For more discussion of Opt Out Day and what’s next, please see
We Won’t Fly, Fly With Dignity, I Will Opt Out, and FlyerTalk

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Resources for National Opt Out Day

Wednesday, November 24, is National Opt Out Day. We Won’t Fly, a grassroots organization that’s taken the lead in organizing, describes the goals

The goal of National Opt Out Day is (1) to educate the traveling public about airport naked-body scanners and the new “enhanced” TSA groping so they can make an informed decision; (2) force positive change on the TSA by slowing down their security theater with creative protest; and (3) show the airlines our consumer power so that they will lobby the government on our behalf to get the naked-body scanners removed and the TSA abolished. The government has failed us. We’re taking our message of real security, dignity and privacy to the airlines until they get on our side.

An important clarification on point #2: the goal is not to interfere with other passengers getting to their destinations. As AP’s Ray Henry describes in TSA chief: Resisting scanners just means delays, the government is trying to convince travelers not to exercise their rights. But as We Won’t Fly’s George Donnelly discusses, Opt Out Day could make security lines move faster by reducing the number of people flying and giving travelers better information than the TSA is providing.

Whether or not you’re planning on opting out, it’s important to know your rights — and to know what your options are if something goes wrong. Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources out there. Here’s a quick guide:
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Packing and the friendly skies: Deviant Ollam on how to be able to really lock your luggage and avoid those horrible “TSA-approved locks”

Another Shakacon presentation, this one from Deviant Ollam.  The short answer: fly with firearms.

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TSA forces woman to remove nipple rings — with pliers

a bra with a nipple ring, AP photo/Nick UTYes, really; and then defends the “thoroughness of the Officers involved”. Don’t you feel safer now? Our tax dollars at work …

From AP’s coverage of Mandi Hamlin’s press conference:

The female TSA agent used a handheld detector that beeped when it passed in front of Hamlin’s chest, the Dallas-area resident said.

Hamlin said she told the woman she was wearing nipple piercings. The agent called over her male colleagues, one of whom said she would have to remove the jewelry, Hamlin said….

She was taken behind a curtain and managed to remove one bar-shaped piercing but had trouble with the second, a ring.

“Still crying, she informed the TSA officer that she could not remove it without the help of pliers, and the officer gave a pair to her,” said Hamlin’s attorney, Gloria Allred, reading from a letter she sent Thursday to the director of the TSA’s Office of Civil Rights and Liberties.

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Five-year olds as national security threats

Boing Boing has stories on not one but two five-year-olds whose names are on the no-fly list and so get treated by the TSA as a security threat.  Cory Doctorow comments

You know, if you wanted to systematically discredit the idea of a Department of Homeland Security, if you wanted to make an utter mockery of aviation safety, you could not do a better job than this.

although I think that’s not giving the TSA enough credit: DHS continuing to employ the company that wrote the TSA web site filled with vulnerabilities asking for traveller’s social security numbers and other personal information is equally effective at discrediting themselves.

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