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DHS Eyes Covert Body Scans 386

CWmike writes "Documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) suggest that the US Department of Homeland Security has signed contracts for the development of mobile and static systems that can be used scan pedestrians and people at rail and bus stations and special event venues — apparently at times without their knowledge. Under consideration: An Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance platform; an X-Ray Backscatter system that could detect concealed metallic and high-density plastic objects on people from up to 10 meters away; a walk-through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest, which could be installed in corridors and likely scan people walking through it without them knowing it, EPIC said."
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DHS Eyes Covert Body Scans

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  • If the technology is out there to do this safely and securely, how could it possibly be a bad thing. These being used at major gatherings - Olympics, Superbowl, World Cup - all round the world these should be able to be used given the current state of the world we live in.

    • by GizmoToy ( 450886 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:45PM (#35372872) Homepage

      But the safety of the machines is still somewhat in question. The government says they're fine, but researchers in the field aren't quite so sure. You can't just go around radiating people. Beyond the obvious privacy concerns, there are health concerns as well.

      • by snsh ( 968808 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:56PM (#35373030)
        The safety issue is a distraction from the real issue, which is that the 4th amendment is supposed to prevent DHS employees from doing these searches.
        • How is a full body pat down any different from this? You gave up your right to privacy when you chose to fly. Otherwise, seizing and inspecting the laptops of traveling US Citizens [] would not be legal.

          • by Attila Dimedici ( 1036002 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @06:02PM (#35373914)
            Sorry, that has nothing to do with flying and everything to do with crossing the border into the country. The article you linked to is about Customs seizing and inspecting laptops. The idea that the Fourth Amendment does not apply at Customs goes back to when the Framers of the Constitution were still running the country.
            We really need to improve education in this country. Seizing and inspecting laptops is not a new invasion of privacy. It is just that we carry more information about ourselves and our business on a laptop then people traditionally did when most information was on paper.
      • Why would they be allowed to operate a medical device without a doctor present?

        This is the same reason I refuse to go through the machines at the airport. I wouldn't use an xray machine without a doctor, and in fact I believe it's illegal to do so. So why would I let some minimum wage security guard xray me?

        • by treeves ( 963993 )

          I'm against them too, but an "x-ray machine" is not inherently a medical device.

      • by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @05:20PM (#35373366)

        You can't just go around radiating people.

        Indeed. The laws of physics, specifically concerning the creation and destruction of matter and energy, would indicate that in order to "radiate people" you'd have to have not only one hell of an energy source on your person, but something akin to an insanely cool energy-to-matter converter capable of creating atoms in the precise configuration as to generate a person.

        Now, on the other hand, you may have meant "you can't just go around irradiating people", as in the verb irradiating, which means "exposing to radiation."

        • Fair enough. The mental image of a device that "radiate people" gave me a good laugh. I'd mod you up if I could.

    • by killmenow ( 184444 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:46PM (#35372888)
      "Safely" is the key word, imho. There's no reliable data (ie, not provided by the manufacturers of the devices themselves) as to the level of x-ray exposure and the long term effects of repeated exposures. There's no way to know how "safe" they are until longitudinal studies can be completed and that takes a long time. In the mean time, it's "take our word for it." I'd rather not.
    • I agree! I wonder if I can buy my own to scan myself where ever I go just in case someone planted a bomb on me without my knowledge.
      • You just made me think of Fallout.

        Ahh, pickpocketing people and planting grenades on them was so much fun...

    • You shouldn't mind if I grab your nuts then. Present them for inspection citizen. TOO SMALL CUT THEM OFF!

    • If the technology is out there to do this safely and securely, how could it possibly be a bad thing.

      Well, I believe it would be unconstitutional, for starters as it would pretty much violate the Fourth Amendment.

      No warrant, no probably cause, no judicial oversight. This is a bad idea.

      • for starters as it would pretty much violate the Fourth Amendment.

        Not a problem. The Supreme Court has ruled the 4th Amendment unconstitutional.

    • If the technology is out there to do this safely and securely, how could it possibly be a bad thing.

      Oh the naivety .-_-.

    • If the technology is out there to do this safely and securely, how could it possibly be a bad thing. These being used at major gatherings - Olympics, Superbowl, World Cup - all round the world these should be able to be used given the current state of the world we live in.

      Assuming that these were cheap, and completely safe (ha!), you still would be completely wrong in your thinking. You should not be doing this because simply have no right to do this. Do you frisk down everyone who comes to visit you at
      • by praxis ( 19962 )

        At one does have the right to frisk everyone wishing to enter their home, should they chose and the visitor consent before being permitted entry. This, though, is more like checking out the anal cavity of the women in front of you at the check-out line, just in case she has a bomb up there, you know, just in case. Also, poisoning her while you're at it. Without her knowing.

    • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

      Those are some pretty big if's:

      1. The safety of the machines hasn't been proven, they haven't been out long enough to compile long term statistics on their safety to the public and to the people running the scanners. Xrays are ionizing radiation, and even if they don't penetrate the skin I can't imagine that messing around with skin cell DNA molecules is healthy for anyone and there are some real questions [] about the effects of the machines. What safeguards are in the machine to monitor X-ray levels and prev

    • Get back to me about how you feel when "nekid" pictures of your wife (or of yourself revealing the socks stuffed in your shorts) wind up on the internet.
    • could it possibly be a bad thing...given the current state of the world we live in[?]

      I can't believe I wore a uniform and served my country only to have the likes of you want to piss away all of our freedoms (without a fight!) because you're scared of a HYPOTHETICAL situation.

      What a waste. I should've let the Communists hordes win, but Noooo, I had to slog it out in the friggin mud, sand and muck, freeze my *** off in a @*($&# GP-Medium and sweat my **** off humping Alice [] and Pig [] all over the &#*($ place for what?

  • This was an obvious extension to the FUD factor being created by DHS.
  • No surprise really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:45PM (#35372868) Homepage

    What these guys clearly want is the right to search any and all persons without their knowledge and without anything remotely resembling probable cause. Right now, they can at least claim that you consent to being searched when you decide to board a plane. But this is something different, because you do not consent to a search when you walk down a street.

    Now show me your papers please.

    • by Utini420 ( 444935 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:49PM (#35372938)

      Oh, don't bother, we can read them while they are still in your pocket.

    • Sad as I am to say this, I am starting to care less and less about the US security regime. This is something the feds obviously want badly, and damned be innovation, education, and personal freedom. At this pace it's only a matter of time before another country takes advantage of this misguided path and surpasses them in all the areas that are being ignored. :(

      • by praxis ( 19962 )

        I'm sad to inform you that the matter of time has already passed. One could perhaps argue for innovation still, at least that's somewhat comparable. Education and personal freedom, not so much, the US is far from a world leader there.

    • by Zerth ( 26112 )

      Much like police can't use radar and thermal cameras to peer through the walls of your house, I'd like to hope that using this on the street would get smacked down.

      However, they could probably get away with checkpoints, much like DUI stops, and putting them at the entrance to venues(by putting acceptance of use in tiny letters on tickets).

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Right it gets back to that expectation of privavy argument. I think I certainly do have a right to expect the contents of my pants are private when walking down the street.

      Oh well I guess until the public decides, "to uphold the Constitution" should actually mean than in thoes office oaths, I guess I will get some foil lined clothing.

  • by Phizzle ( 1109923 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:45PM (#35372880) Homepage
    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
    They will probably use the olde Family guy argument -
    Peter: Brian, are you suggesting that 9/11 didn't change everything?
    Brian: What? No, I was just...
    Peter: 'Cause 9/11 changed everything, Brian! 9/11 changed everything!

    DAMN :(
  • They're only giving credibility to the tinfoil hat (underwear?)-wearing crowd.
    • They gave credibility to those guys a long time ago.

      Just look at all the documentaries that have been produced in the last 20-30 years that come at things from a totally conspiracy theory viewpoint. Shit, some of the more outlandish ones have even been proven right, at least partially.

    • My plan for dealing with this is actually to build a tinfoi-lined/metallic fabric trenchcoat-hoodie with a Geiger counter built in to detect the X-rays. It would get pretty hot inside so I'd leave it open until X-rays are detected. Maybe hook it up to my phone via bluetooth for upload to a Trapster for backscatter scanners? Oh and maybe add a detector for the microwave scanners if possible.

      I'm not worried about the radiation or even care that much about people seeing my junk, it's just to give a big FUCK YO

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:48PM (#35372914)

    give a man the power of God.

    (I don't remember the exact quote)

  • pregnant women? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Yeah, I'm sure covertly x-raying people will go down really well with pregnant women. I don't care if they say backscatter x-rays emit a safe level of radiation that poses no risk to a fetus. I wouldn't trust it. First, I'm not convinced they've done adequate studies. Second, I'm not going to trust an x-ray emitting device that is neither medically certified nor operated by trained medical professionals.

    • I hate these machines as much as anyone around here, but i'm not so sure pregnant women have anything extra to worry about. The whole point of backscatter/mm-wave scanners are that they don't penetrate much more than clothing. Anything hidden inside a body cavity (like a baby, obviously) wouldn't receive any dosage of radiation because it simply doesn't penetrate that deep.

  • by Manip ( 656104 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @04:50PM (#35372948)
    The backscatter system is designed to penetrate the outer layer of the skin. Experts have written to the US Government with concerns only to be answered with "it is too low power!" But the fact is that these machines cause cancer, the only question is how much cancer and if we're happy with killing one additional person every year, ten, or over a hundred?

    Luckily it is impossible to show cause/effect between these machines and the cancers we know they will cause. Thus we can go on irradiating ourselves for many generations to come. I'd be very concerned if I was a frequent flier. You're a guinea pig. But now they want to expand this ineffective and unnecessary security theatre into the general populous? Very scary thought.
    • It looks as though the dark future is arriving right on schedule for Cyberpunk. All hail Mike Pondsmith []. Looks like I'm going to be wearing a trenchcoat in all seasons sooner than I thought.

    • The numbers I have read indicate that more people will die of backscatter induced cancers each year than would die from a mid-scale Project Orion [] style single-stage-to-orbit launch. Now, which of those two things (scanning random people boarding airplanes vs getting multiple megatons of material into orbit) has a bigger benefit to humanity?

    • by pz ( 113803 )

      The backscatter system is designed to penetrate the outer layer of the skin.

      Close. The backscatter system is designed to collect photons that are scattered from the outer layer of the body. The ones that keep on going clear through or are absorbed don't matter. But you can see lung and bone shadows in even the officially released photos, so we know the photons are going deeper than the skin before being scattered.

      No level of x-ray exposure is safe. Nothing above zero. Each exposure carries a certain ri

  • Hack into one of those systems, put the pics on WikiLeaks and pass the popcorn.

    • i am waiting for that to happen with the TSA airport scans actually.

      some thing like celebrity TSA Scans, showing all the boob jobs. all the images are done digitally so they are kept . The system is supposed to delete them, however a simple setting change can fix that. with time date stamps, and an accurate watch, guards in the back will know which files belong to whom.

  • If you obscure your scan in an airport (say, wrap your stuff in metal foil or put some of those fancy sheets of steel with the 4th amendment cut into it) you get denied access to the plane. OK, that's easy, and it makes cop-sense that you're opting out of your flight if you don't consent to the search. And I guess the same logic could apply to major events and the like, though I can see people having even less patience for the security theater on their way into something fun.

    Wonder how they'd take to that

    • by h4rr4r ( 612664 )

      What if they find something on the street?
      Does their machine magically know if I have a CCW permit or not?

      • you need a permit to turn things opposite of clock direction? really?

        • by pem ( 1013437 )
          Well, I think you should need a permit to create one of those goofy bassackward thread screw systems that go the wrong way -- those things are confusing!
      • You don't even need a CCW in my state. I'm genuinely curious how this would play out.
  • Jan, 2010: Netherlands and UK [].

    Aug, 2010: Sale of vans with backscatter devices to U.S. law enforcement agencies []

    So this is the EPIC FOIA confirmation.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      AJ/InfoWars covers so many absurdities (planes changing the weather, nWo, etc) that when a real story like this comes around it gets buried due to their lack of credibility. A shame really.

  • And why aren't these people in jail? Really from what I have seen reading experiences, it is obvious that the TSA people definitely enjoy looking at certain people more than others and can even be caught joking about it. It's not really their fault, because many of them are young people, and in their shoes I'm sure I would enjoy scanning that really cute blond too. But this is more about the sex crazed government guys sitting on their poles. Many of them are whining about pornography, that homosexuality
    • I understand your concern about dental X-rays. I have an implant that needs to be checked every year or so, so I'd like to limit exposure.

      One thing that helps: Find a dentist that has invested in a digital X-ray system. Rather than sticking a piece of film in your mouth, they put a small sensor that is about the same surface area and a bit thicker (but not flexible). Aside from the convenience and efficiency issues, the digital sensor is much more sensitive than film. So, the X-ray source can be set

  • You know those WiFi-sensitive T-Shirts from ThinkGeek? Maybe it's time for something that responds to X-radiation...

  • Seriously. Irradiating people without their knowledge - what could possibly go wrong? Including children.

    There are scientists who are concerned that the govt guys have their numbers on safety wrong - in fact they have the right numbers but they are interpreting them wrongly. Take the backscatter X-ray approach for instance. The total radiation dose divided by the total body volume is low - however in fact that's not true. Because the radiation doesn't penetrate the whole body, its energy gets dispersed only

  • by paulsnx2 ( 453081 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @05:02PM (#35373108)

    Okay, let's just consider this for a bit. Storage costs are dropping like a lead balloon. Chip costs as well.

    Soon the idea that people are filming their lives constantly will be a fact rather than a story.

    Image processing of said films and audio will allow us to ask our devices where we put our keys, and they will answer (think cheap massive storage meets IBM's Watson).

    Our cars will drive themselves (seriously, 40,000 deaths per year because people can't drive well consistently WILL be converted into less than 400 deaths per year because automated cars have limits). First the cars will just kick in when they have to to save our lives, then they will just take over the job. And they will be able to record where we have been, and be able to discuss where we want to go within that historical and geographical context (car meets Watson).

    But then things get sinister. The TSA/FBI/CIA/... will be able to record all sorts of things, and ask about what people have been doing. (Video surveillance meets Watson). And there is going to be piles of video for "Surveillance Watson" to think about. Think traffic cameras, hummingbird sized drones, parking lot cameras, etc.

    People are going to go into a rage here about the radiation. But what happens when we figure out how to simply understand the changes to the background radiation just because people are walking about? We have all sorts of RF to use, all materials give off a certain amount of radiation, and we are walking through all of it. We have all sorts of sonic sources to process. The bottom line is that passive sensors will *at some point* be able to do what requires active radiation sources today.

    Today the limits on processing random data streams limits what government can do with all these sources of information that produce tons and tons of junk for each ounce of "useful-to-three-letter-org" information. The law is increasingly irrelevant when it comes to restraining what these organizations do. What has saved us is that it is just too hard to process that much data.

    But at some point it will NOT be too hard to process that much data. We need to make the law RELEVANT in restraining how we are observed, because even if I am wrong about the details I gave above, I am not wrong about the trend. The fact is that technology is going to be increasingly on the side of those that want to know everything about us even if they have no right to gather that information. And we will increasingly see this used to punish those that oppose those in power.

  • Is there data published anywhere that tells exactly what sort of radiation -- what energies and intensities -- these machines emit?

    Rather than the TSA telling us they are safe, we should be able to figure this out for ourselves.

  • Health issues aside...

    When you put someone into the scanner, it's reasonable to assume the image the TSA agent sees on the screen is of the person standing inside. But with 10, 20, or how many people walking through a scan tunnel at once, it's likely a matter of time before someone figures out a way to jerk the equipment into thinking the guy 6 feet to his left has contraband on his person. Kind of like how a shoplifter will walk through the electronic sentry at the exit, just as someone else walks throu
  • I see a line of lead-lined clothing, or perhaps backscatter resistant underwear. I mean, if you *never* know when you're being scanned, you have to assume you're being scanned ALL THE TIME.

    Didn't the former CEO of SUN say "get over it, you already have no privacy" --- if only he knew how right he was.

  • What we need is some fashion guru to bring out a line in underwear with something in it that inadvertently blocks radiation.

    I think I saw something about such recently.

  • by jeko ( 179919 ) on Thursday March 03, 2011 @06:05PM (#35373946)

    The American College of Radiology and the Radiological Society of North America [] have already expressed concerns about the levels of radiation given to patients in the normal course of medical practice. They've already recommended limiting scans [] to cases where absolutely necessary, where you can justifiably state "getting this scan is worth increasing the odds my patient will get cancer."

    Of course, the reality is worse. Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for Radiological Research is reporting the machines are likely to routinely emit 20 times the radiation reported in the spec and are flat out a major public health risk. Dr. John Sedat, Professor of BioChemistry and Biophysics at the University of California San Francisco and a member of the National Academy of Sciences sent a letter to the White House with the following:

    “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.”

    By the TSA's own numbers, which are undoubtedly low, they calculate more people will die from the eventual cancers than have been killed by all the terrorist acts in the world put together.

    OK, so that's one side of the argument. What does the DHS have to say? Where are the medical professionals willing to certify these machines as safe?

    Turns out, there aren't any. No medical professional of any kind has yet been willing to sign their name in public stating that these machines are safe. The only people saying so are the vendors who won the contract, and even they refuse to state unequivacably that the machines are safe, falling back instead on "We've built the machine to your spec and they should perform as ordered."

    No one, not even the maker of the machines, is willing to certify them as safe.

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard