Jul 182012
 
  • Illustration by Donna Grethen

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The days of secrecy at the  Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may be coming to an end.  It’s a widely held belief that the agency’s hasty embrace of expensive,  X-rated x-ray machines has more to do with closed-door lobbying efforts  of manufacturers than a deliberate consideration of the devices’ merits.  On Tuesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) pushed for  some transparency by asking the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to  compel the agency to hold a public notice-and-comment period on the use  of pornographic scanners, as the law requires.

EPIC  has a good case because on July 15, 2011, the D.C. Circuit issued a  ruling insisting TSA “promptly” come into compliance with Administrative  Procedure Act requirements regarding public hearings. TSA believed it  wasn’t subject to such rules because the virtual strip-searching of  women, children and the elderly is an essential security operation.  “While TSA has prioritized the rulemaking directed by the Opinion, TSA  has many important rulemakings in progress, many of them required by  statute,” TSA acting general manager James S. Clarkson, wrote in a Nov.  9, 2011 affidavit. In other words, we’re too busy, we’ll get around to  it later.

The  last thing TSA wants is the public-relations disaster of having to  collect and publish the horror tales from Americans subjected to  humiliation from the nude photography and intrusive “pat-down” groping  sessions. Scanner manufacturer Rapiscan Systems, which has invested $2.2  million in wining and dining administration officials and lawmakers  since 2007, probably isn’t keen on broader public discussion either.

Already,  nearly 2 million have watched a YouTube video in which engineer  Jonathan Corbett demonstrates how the whole-body imaging machines are  relatively simple to fool. Mr. Corbett earlier this month filed a  petition to have his case against the intrusive screening procedures  heard by the Supreme Court. He argues the agency’s searches don’t just  violate administrative procedures, but that TSA agents falsely arrested  him when he attempted to board a flight at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood  International Airport last year. As part of the agency’s convoluted  legal defense, TSA officials argue transportation security officers are  not law enforcement officers because they “do not have the authority to  execute searches.” That’s a rather curious assertion for an agency whose  sole mission is to rifle through the belongings of others.

It’s  time to admit the post-Sept. 11 experiment in having the government  take over airport screening duties has been a colossal flop. TSA has  defied the Administrative Procedures Act, an appellate court, the public  will and common decency. It’s not enough just to pull the plug on the  scanners; the plug should be pulled on TSA itself.

The  days of secrecy at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) may  be coming to an end. It’s a widely held belief that the agency’s hasty  embrace of expensive, X-rated x-ray machines has more to do with  closed-door lobbying efforts of manufacturers than a deliberate  consideration of the devices’ merits. On Tuesday, the Electronic Privacy  Information Center (EPIC) pushed for some transparency by asking the  D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to compel the agency to hold a public  notice-and-comment period on the use of pornographic scanners, as the  law requires.

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