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TSA in Court to Defend Full-Body Scanner Policies

August 8, 2012 at 4:06 PM | by | ()

Even more obviously than most agencies, TSA has a very particular way of dealing with criticism. First they deny that a problem is happening. Then when it's obvious that's exactly what's happening they insist it's no big deal. Then eventually they just stop answering questions, because shut up that's why.

Very often there's this surreal Alice-In-Wonderland quality to the whole debate, because what TSA officials are saying is pretty much incoherent.

Of course TSA's full-body scanners could store naked pictures because that's the only way to calibrate them. But first TSA said that was impossible, then it became obviously possible, and now they just say you should trust them. And of course full-body scanners have health risks because it's effing radiation. But first TSA said the doses were harmless, then the Europeans and TSA's own health studies implied otherwise, and now we've kind of forgotten about that debate. And of course TSA unions would bargain over security because security is what TSA employees do. But first TSA said no way, then it happened, and now it's the new normal.

Other places where unblinking TSA statements have very obviously clashed with reality: scanners and the second underwear bomber, safety rules and the first underwear bomber, TSA's idiotic PDF blooper and security impacts, black scanner backgrounds and detection loopholes, private screeners and how much they cost, and even opt out requests versus math.

All of which is to say that TSA has lost the benefit of the doubt.

Now rewind to last year. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) noticed that federal agencies are supposed to hold hearings about things like full-body scanners, and TSA had never done that, and that was kind of against the law. EPIC sued the agency and won. A judge ordered TSA to finally go through the full rule-making process on scanner policies, which includes getting feedback.

A year later and those hearings still haven't been held. TSA basically ignored the order, confirming that feedback—especially on scanners—simply isn't how the agency rolls. But judges tend to get grumpy when you don't do what they tell you and so now things are getting interesting. EPIC is back in court and this time they're asking the judge to force TSA to hold hearings in 60 days. Otherwise, says EPIC, TSA should have to outright halt their scanner policies.

Everyone has to be in court over the next month to hash things out. This has potential, no?

[Photo: Wayan Vota / Flickr]

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