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Homeland Security: New Body Scanners Have Issues 181

Posted by Soulskill
from the many-tax-dollars-were-spent-to-reach-this-conclusion dept.
Fluffeh writes "Although the DHS has spent around $90 million upgrading magnetometers to the new body scanners, federal investigators 'identified vulnerabilities in the screening process' at domestic airports using the new machines, according to a classified internal Department of Homeland Security report. Exactly how bad the body scanners are is not being divulged publicly, but the Inspector General's report (PDF) made eight separate recommendations on how to improve screening. To quiet privacy concerns, the authorities are also spending $7 million to 'remove the human factor from the image review process' and replace the passenger's image with an avatar."
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Homeland Security: New Body Scanners Have Issues

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  • Another DHS Fail (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:19AM (#39939885)

    This is getting to the point of ridiculousness due to the another article bringing up issues with the body scanners. The public really needs to send letters and sign petitions in mass to get rid of this expensive cancer causing paper weights.

  • Human Factor (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:22AM (#39939907)

    When they said they were removing the "human factor" I assumed that meant they were removing the TSA agents looking at the images and replacing it with some kind of image analysis software... not slapping the equivalent of a black bar over the naughty bits.

    Also, I'm surprised they only estimate it to cost $7 mil... seems like it's not enough for sufficient profits even with the inevitable budget overruns.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      isn't the whole point of the scanner lost though if you overlay something on top of the pics?
      the point of the scanner would be to see the naked body - but if you don't want that, why bother with the new scanner in the first place?

      and imho certifying for the scanners would be a higher concern, no?

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        I always wondered why they can't distort the images like a hall of mirrors or something. That would be easy to do.

      • by 0111 1110 (518466)

        Supposedly Automatic Target Detection is software that analyzes the raw images themselves looking for anomalies. In Germany they found the system to result in something like a 50% false positive rate. So it's far from perfect. But the idea is to shut down the peep/perv/wank booths and replace the horny human pedophiles wanking to real images of little girl vaginas with a relatively indifferent computer program which won't be quite as titillated by thousands of naked bodies everyday. Of course the TSA is not

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:23AM (#39939917)
    I certainly hope replacing the passenger's naked photo with a paper doll isn't enough to "quiet" the privacy concerns [about.com].
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Extremus (1043274)

      I never quite understood this privacy thing. What is the problem of someone watching a shadow image of your genitalia? Even if some agent chuckle a bit at your not-so-male panties or broccoli-shaped penis, what is the matter? Probably this sort of thing gets boring after some days having to look at this machine...

      • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:59AM (#39940241)

        My point was that the principle of searching travelers without probable cause is far more offensive than being viewed naked.

        That said, there is no reason to believe it's just one pervert viewing your naked picture (or the naked picture of your kids). The scanners capture digital images which can be easily stored or transmitted in several ways, the most obvious of which is pointing a smart phone's camera at the monitor.

        • by KhabaLox (1906148)

          The scanners capture digital images which can be easily stored or transmitted in several ways,

          But just to be clear, that's not theft.

      • by Joce640k (829181) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:42AM (#39940673) Homepage

        Probably this sort of thing gets boring after some days having to look at this machine...

        Why don't you ask the hot girls who have to go back and forth through the scanners [cbslocal.com] while they call a few more people over to have a look, "just to be sure".

        Or the pedophiles [google.com] who've been arrested while in the employ of the TSA.

        Just because you don't mind, or you think you'd get bored, doesn't mean everybody else feels the same.

        • by Extremus (1043274) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:58AM (#39940883)

          Cases of abuse have to be dealt with disciplinary actions, as with any other area of society. In any case, I doubt they are widespread. Also, pedophiles exist everywhere. For instance, there are numerous cases of pedophile teachers; but I doubt you feel uncomfortable to send your kids to the school.

          • "Cases of abuse have to be dealt with ..."

            Right. That is what we have all been saying. The TSA scanning people is a blatant case of abuse of power, and it needs to be dealt with by doing away with such a ridiculous violation of our 4th amendment rights. You see, you had the right idea, but the wrong scope.

          • by Mitreya (579078)

            For instance, there are numerous cases of pedophile teachers; but I doubt you feel uncomfortable to send your kids to the school.

            I'll keep saying it -- there is a perceived benefit to sending kids to school (they may learn something). That offsets the various risks that are involved in the process. In the absence of benefits (as TSA does not benefit travelers, hasn't caught a single terrorists or verify-ably stopped an attack), the process is a net loss
            Yes, the risk of pedophiles or cancer (*) or whatever is presumably reasonably low, but what do you have to gain?

            * I understand that at least some earlier machines that were bought

        • Looking at the CBS article, I'm not terribly convinced. Yes, they have looked at complaints but they never established a baseline 'frisk' rate. It would be trivial for an 'journalistic' organization such as CBS to station a half dozen monitors at some checkpoints for a day and ascertain the male:female and age distribution of people screened and rescreened with the machines.

          That would be useful and an interesting journalistic exercise.

          The referred news 'story' is just noise.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I never quite understood this privacy thing. What is the problem of someone watching a shadow image of your genitalia? Even if some agent chuckle a bit at your not-so-male panties or broccoli-shaped penis, what is the matter? Probably this sort of thing gets boring after some days having to look at this machine...

        Well, in what other context in your life would you essentially be strip searched? The answer is probably nowhere.

        So, why do you feel we should subject ourselves to it at the airport? Why should w

      • Because it's my right to decide who sees my broccoli-shaped penis and not-so-male panties, plain and simple just as it's my right to decide who touches those same things. Unless there is a clear and articulable suspicion of wrongdoing the government's supposed to butt out. Keep that camel's nose out of my pants, please.

      • by 0111 1110 (518466)

        I never quite understood this privacy thing.

        Well you are certainly giving that impressiion.

        What is the problem of someone watching a shadow image of your genitalia?

        Please post one of these 'shadow' images you refer to so that we can see for ourselves how shadowy they are. In fact they resemble black and white photographs far more than they do 'shadows'. While the images are not as wank-worthy as those from the x-ray scanners you can still see quite a lot.

        Even if some agent chuckle a bit at your not-so-male panties or broccoli-shaped penis, what is the matter?

        The problem is that not everyone wants to display their naked body in order to exercise their basic human right to travel freely. Yes, I know you are going to launch into

      • To me, these scanners are the digital age equivalent of strutting someone around naked with a black bag over their head. That the person isn't easily identifiable doesn't change the fact that it's degrading, humiliating, and strips us not just of our clothes, but also of our dignity.

    • by dgatwood (11270)

      I certainly hope replacing the passenger's naked photo with a paper doll isn't enough to "quiet" the privacy concerns.

      Only among the incredibly stupid. Like I keep telling people every time the government spouts such idiocy, it's software. They're still taking a picture of you naked; they're just hiding some of the details from the screener. Thus:

      • Nothing prevents that data from being stored in its raw form, and even if the software does not do so now, it requires only a trivial change (like five minutes
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:27AM (#39939939) Homepage Journal

    If this is not like the technology "displayed" in Total Recall it will never be acceptable.

    How did these officials ever think the technology as deployed was even remotely acceptable? Yet people never seem to get the hint that the bigger the government the less it really has to care.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      How did these officials ever think the technology as deployed was even remotely acceptable?

      People can convince themselves of all sorts of things when they stand to make a nice profit.

  • Avatar (Score:4, Funny)

    by mschaffer (97223) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:30AM (#39939967)

    Do we at least get to customize our avatar as one can on many websites?

  • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:43AM (#39940081)

    ... along the lines of "if they did this avatar thing from the beginning the TSA maybe would have only earned half the animosity they deserve" and go on about how sometimes focus groups actually work that might bring out, you know, glaring errors in design.

    But you know what? That doesn't fucking matter. What matters is that the American Public is crisis fatigued out. I am crisis fatigued. I turned on the news yesterday to find out that we discovered another underwear bomber and that the design was "sophisticated" and a dog and pony show was trotted out on the Today show by the fucking CIA.

    I want you, every one of you, to ask yourselves, when was the last time the CIA did intelligence press releases? It's like science by press release - you get bogus shit like cold fusion because what it's really about is someone trying to stoke his budget.

    And that's what it's all about. It's just corporate welfare and agency empire building, marketed through fear. On a societal level I can't think of anything more evil except waging war through bogus excuses all the way from the Gulf of Tonkin to GWB's "weapons of mass destruction" bullshit.

    And we're going to shovel good money after bad because so many honest, hard working people are just trying to get through life without increasing the rage factor and generating more heart disease worrying about shit like this.

    Jeg opgiv.

    I am so disheartened.

    --
    BMO

    Postscript:

    About sophistication:

    The fucking Soviet Union of the 1980s could launch nuclear tipped missiles and have them explode over a US city with an accuracy of a couple of feet and this was entirely credible. Comparing the war on terror enemies to the enemy of the Cold War, I do not find any fucking sophistication. Yesterday's announcement of more underwear bombs paired with the word "sophisticated" made me want to scream. What an abuse of language. What fucking Newspeak. What fucking doublethink.

    • What an abuse of language. What fucking Newspeak. What fucking doublethink.

      What a fucking awesome rant! Preach on, bro! My kingdom for a mod point.

    • by kilfarsnar (561956) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:41AM (#39940669)

      I turned on the news yesterday to find out that we discovered another underwear bomber and that the design was "sophisticated" and a dog and pony show was trotted out on the Today show by the fucking CIA.

      I want you, every one of you, to ask yourselves, when was the last time the CIA did intelligence press releases?

      This alone tells you that it's bullshit. Does anyone expect the CIA to play it straight? These guys invented "cannot confirm or deny", so when they confirm on national TV, you know it serves an agenda. Good post!

    • That's the problem with separation of church and state. The government cannot use religion to inflict fear to get people to conform, so they have to resort to other tactics such as the war on terror. When people in power keep people in fear, the people in power can pretty much do whatever they want, whether church or state.

      • by bmo (77928) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:36AM (#39941995)

        I don't see the separation of church and state as a problem.

        If you want religion in your state, be prepared for the state being in your religion.

        Be careful what you wish for.

        --
        BMO

        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          I don't see the separation of church and state as a problem.

          If you want religion in your state, be prepared for the state being in your religion.

          Be careful what you wish for.

          --
          BMO

          You miss my point. WIthout religion to control the masses, the state must resort to fear.

          • by bmo (77928)

            but wait...

            The state is going to resort to fear regardless of whether it has religion under its wing. The powers are not mutually exclusive.

            When the state and religion are the same, the state has both powers

            When the state doesn't have religion, it has half the power of the previous statement.

            I'm not sure what you're getting at.

            A problem for whom?

            --
            BMO

            • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

              When the state had both fear and religion, it used religion -- always better to blame god than the leaders, who could be killed. With religion, the fear was eternal damnation. Without religion, the state has to step up its fear-mongering, but still doesn't want the blame, so we still have an unidentifiable outside force that we, the populace have no control over. The war on terror is everywhere! Just like the devil Sure, I'll give up personal freedoms to let the government protect me from the unknown mo

    • If you haven't read Taleb's book, The Black Swan [wikipedia.org], you might consider doing so. Aside from the much hyped theory of improbable events he talks about how he has dealt with the insane diarrheal flow of information that this world tends to create. Mostly by ignoring the little things (ie. what passes for news these days).

      Don't read the blogs (oops), the news sites, the advertisements. Don't watch TV. Mostly read real stuff / think and just glance at headlines now and again.

      The headlines will of course indic

  • "To quiet privacy concerns, the authorities are also spending $7 million to 'remove the human factor from the image review process' and replace the passenger's image with an avatar."

    http://www.imaxmelbourne.com.au/images/uploads/Avatar/Avatar-BIG-1.jpg [imaxmelbourne.com.au]

    "Sorry, buddy, you're gonna have to check that bow."

  • by arisvega (1414195) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @08:59AM (#39940257)

    I 'll play devil's advocate below- so, under the assumption that the TSA and their paraphernalia are vital in present-day USA:

    .. spending millions [..] upgrading magnetometers to the new body scanners ..

    As most of you probably know, the "new scanner" operates at the THz range: that wavelength is being exploited because a) it "sees" through clothes and b) it gives a nice contrast.

    A little more detail: the incoming radiation mostly penetrates clothing both in its way in and out -- i.e., penetrates clothing in its way in, does not penetrate skin and instead gets reflected back, it then passes again through clothing on its way out and gets registered on the machine. Now, other material (say a ceramic knife, that does not register in the magnetometer) or a "suspicious" looking box strapped on the body, will reflect the incoming THz radiation but on a different way: by taking advantage of this, a contrast image can be constructed, and what is not skin becomes conspicuous. So you can obvisouly see why this is something an authority appreciates, and you would be in denial if you don't believe that the scanners are here to stay. Sorry, but now they have established their foothold in reality, so you have to learn to get used to them being around for quite a while.

    .. spending $7 million [to] replace the passenger's image with an avatar

    Okay, now I am done playing advocate- my points:

    a) $7 million for software development seems a lot in the expensive side, or so I think. Anyway the federal budget for toilet paper is probably higher. And

    b) most importantly, couldn't that had been implemented from the start of the project, out of respect for the citizen? I mean, how hard can it be? Is there a reason why this "extra humiliation" factor had to linger around for so long?

    c) I wouldn't hate TSA so much: the guilt will be hard to cope with once the cumulative radiation damage becomes apparent on its not very bright staff. I don't think there will ever be a concensus regarding the damage one gets (or not) from the respective radiation: just see how after more than a decade the cellphone radiation is still supposed to be under debate, and how results are "inconlcusive".

    • So what you're saying is I need a skin covered knife?
    • Re:Devil's Advocate (Score:4, Informative)

      by thegreatemu (1457577) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @10:14AM (#39941001)

      As most of you probably know, the "new scanner" operates at the THz range

      If only that were universally true. The THz or millimeter wave scanners are in use in some airports, and I have no problem going through them, although sometimes I opt out out of patriotic duty to make life difficult for TSA.

      The problem is that most US airports in fact have the x-ray backscatter scanners. Now, I know that if the device is operating within it's design parameters, the dose you get from it is significantly less than the one you get from actually flying. But even before you start to include factors like a) the dose is concentrated all in the outer skin layers b) it's being operated by a high school dropout, the design dose is NOT ZERO. When you have two technologies, one of which uses ionizing radiation and one which doesn't, yet they accomplish the same goal, why in all the hells would you choose to subject everyone to ioniziing radiation?

    • by MiniMike (234881)

      b) most importantly, couldn't that had been implemented from the start of the project, out of respect for the citizen?

      (emphasis added)

      That made me laugh in a sad, sad way. I wouldn't even say that respect for citizens seems low on their list of priorities, rather it seems the opposite is quite important to them.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      b) most importantly, couldn't that had been implemented from the start of the project, out of respect for the citizen?

      The entire purpose of the TSA is to acclimate citizens to disrespectful treatment by authorities. It's for your own good.

  • by cornjones (33009) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:00AM (#39940265) Homepage

    I know everybody is hung up on 'oh noes, that tsa screener is going to see a blue image of my naked body'. Am I the only one that feels sorry for the guy/gal that actually has to sit all day and watch naked blue bodies? for every swedish bikini model that passes, i you have at least 10 overweight slobs. How can the screener ever have sex again after staring at these blobs going by day in, day out?

  • The terrorists win (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LordStormes (1749242) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:00AM (#39940269) Homepage Journal

    I doubt al Qaeda had any intention of this bomb going off. They put it in somebody's underwear, just so Americans would now have to strip to get on a plane. Government officials need to stop going on TV and saying that the terrorists "hate freedom." Because they do. And if the terrorist's goal is to attack freedom, guess what, government? YOU'RE LETTING THEM WIN. Put an X-Ray machine, a Geiger counter, and a dog at every terminal in the country. That's it. When the terrorists have a bomb that isn't made of metal AND is made of a chemical the dog can't detect, send a sample of that chemical to every airport in the country, and teach the dogs to smell that too.

  • by NEDHead (1651195) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:02AM (#39940299)

    I have issues! And no one is giving me $90M to fix them...

    • by geekmux (1040042)

      I have issues! And no one is giving me $90M to fix them...

      You did not reach the minimum number of 666 points on the G&C (Greed and Corruption) scale. I'm sorry sir, but you failed to qualify for the special edition "bailout" checks.

  • by athlon02 (201713) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @09:03AM (#39940301)

    Yet ANOTHER reason to get rid of the TSA. We waste dollar after dollar on that stupid agency. And according to their own stats, we're no safer now than in 2001. Moreover, from a constitutional standpoint:

    1. The Federal govt has the right to secure the borders -- this is the job for border patrol, NOT the TSA
    2. Inter-state flights - not within Federal jurisdiction
    3. That leaves flights that go across state lines, but do not leave the US.

    The only place where the TSA arguably should have any authority is #3. And if we do #1, #2, and track & deport known terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, then the need for #3 becomes very minimal.

    Let's face it, the TSA is filled with a bunch of inept, under-achieving goons, who have shaky justification for their jobs (at best) and should be replaced with private security companies. Such companies could be under appropriately laws to make sure they can be prosecuted for violating the 4th amendment, civil liberties, etc. and they'd have plenty of incentives to do things right...

    OK, rant ended.

  • Do you want to date my avatar...

    Perhaps this will increase the job satisfaction and reduce depression amongst TSA screeners. Seriously...who would want that job? For every 1 person they might want to see naked and put their hands on...they are required to look at and feel up a hundred more that they would rather just run away from.

  • I mean, what a great mind-fuck to AQ. What if they caught the guy, stuck him in a cell in a friendly country, then decided that they'd do a little psychological warfare and said this guy was a double agent all along. I mean, if there aren't any embedded agents, why not freak them out and have them wondering how many people are working for the other side?

    And it seems odd that they out a double agent as intentionally one, not just some poor schmuck that got compromised.

    • Why do you think that picture is anybody but some random taxi driver in NYC that's been moderately Photoshopped?

      (Assuming this whole silly story has any basis in fact.)

    • Or the agent pretty much started the whole bomb plot to justify TSA and defense spending.
  • This is the same thing that the TSA previously dismissed as "some guy" making a "crude attempt" at getting around screening procedures. At least they are acknowledging it now.

    http://blog.tsa.gov/2012/03/viral-video-about-body-scanners.html [tsa.gov]

    They have also said that these things are completely safe despite inadequate testing. Or that there are sufficient procedures in place to protect people's privacy. I wonder how long it will take for them to change their minds on that too.

  • by Dan667 (564390) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:43AM (#39942127)
    if these scanners were really about safety then pass a bill that the makers of them cannot make a profit and no executive in the company can make more than $150k per year (total compensation).
  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @11:58AM (#39942333)

    The airport in Bozeman, Montana did at least.

    The screen shows just a generic outline with a highlighted area of where something was detected.

    However, this doesn't end the privacy concerns. The device still has a full-res picture (visualization) in it, it just doesn't put it on the screen. And I don't believe for a minute that the device doesn't store the picture despite what they say. If I were designing the system, I'd store the picture at least for a couple days.

    What happens if they are doing testing where they try to sneak weapons on board and they make it on? You would want the data so it can be analyzed after the fact to see why the system didn't detect them. What happens if a plane blows up? You would want to look at the images to see if the software missed a carried device.

    There's no way you'd just throw the data away, it really harms your capability to improve the system over time.

    So I still have privacy concerns.

  • I could have designed an equally useful and 100% safe system for far less:

    1) Put up prop booths with no real functionality

    2) Tell everyone it is a sophisticated scanning system when it is actually just a prop.

    3) Pay people to occaisonally go through and "get caught", thereby reinforcing the illusion.

    4) Profit!

    Then again, I suppose there is a good chance that is exactly what they are already doi*(#&)^)$^NO CARRIER
  • by swschrad (312009) on Wednesday May 09, 2012 @01:56PM (#39944121) Homepage Journal

    "my avatar has brass knuckles. 2 points."

    "fool, kneel before me! my avatar has two rocket launchers, 99 energy points, and ten grenades!"

    meanwhile, far behind, the $8-an-hour "agents" are hassling a little old lady with a walker and leading another Congressman into the back room holding cells for having a tie clasp.

  • ... this freaking DHS + TSA clusterfuck already? Have they done anything better than what was done before without being completely moronic, stupid, and wasting money. As for post 9/11, all you had to do was coordinate the then-existing agencies together better. (I actually was working on a project for that, until the DHS was launched) It's madness. You know what "hope and change" what could have been? Get rid of this crap.

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