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You've seen the video, now read the TSA pushback (and if you haven't seen the video, we've embedded it at the bottom). The airport security agency is facing renewned criticism triggered by a 27-year old Florida man's viral video, in which the man appears to use the world's dumbest hack to smuggle metallic objects through TSA's super-expensive full-body scanners.
Now Blogger Bob has taken official notice of the controversy and posted a response. Except his response very pointedly does not deny that the hack works. Instead he only says that TSA can't talk about security protocols, and besides the agency has multiple layers of security, and besides the machines can detect objects hidden in lots of ways. Other TSA officials are telling journalists that the machines are "safe." All of that is interesting, but it's not an answer.
On one hand, it's a little bold for Japanese comics to be spoofing American behavior on the same week that Japanese scientists are showcasing their hilariously disturbing pregnancy simulator vest around the country. Japan doesn't have a lock on Jaunted's weird travel category, but they're not exactly under-represented either (not one but two separate posts just about weird bras!) So a little bit of cross-cultural modesty is called for here.
On the other hand, the Washington Post did just publish a story about a TSA agent who got somewhat flummoxed by something "shiny." Literally. Too sparkly!
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TSA spokesman James Fotenos has emailed us a clarification about this story. Check the bottom of this post for the update, including an answer on what you can expect from TSA's Gingerbread Man scanner policies!
It's kind of a big day for Ohio travelers, as three of the state's airports got the new Gingerbread Man full-body scanners that TSA has been rolling out. Officials at CLE, TOL, and DAY have started routing flyers toward the new and very much working machines, which provide all the security of the old scanners without the backlash-inducing nudey picture overtones.
Further east, RDU is supposed to be getting the new scanners in the coming days, and of course we covered the installations in BWI and TPA in the political/technical backgrounder we did last week (you can read it here).
TSA officials are talking as if the new machines will resolve the concerns that everyone has with full-body scanners. We're not so sure.
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TSA has finally begun deploying the Gingerbread Man scanners that we started telling you about last February. The scanners detect suspicious objects and project them onto androgynous, human-shaped cutouts, the upshot being that they're as effective as current full-body scanners but without all the "having people see you naked" discomfort.
The same rules apply to these scanners as to previous full-body scanners, which is to say that you get pulled aside if the machines detect a suspicious object or you refuse screening. But we expect, at the very least, that less people will opt out of scanning now that their actual images aren't being viewed by some unknown agent in some locked room.
Just like the rest of us, celebrities have to endure TSA lines, screenings, and full body scanners at airports across the country. And, like us, some get through the process unscathed, well others have a bit more trouble.
Actress Abigail Spencer, who is currently filming the Wizard of Oz prequel, Oz: The Great and Powerful with James Franco, was delighted after being given a pair of paper slippers to wear through the security line in Tampa. She recently tweeted this pic with the caption, "3 words: airport. security. slippers. Look at #Tampa makin the world a better place."
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Last month there was yet another brouhaha surrounding the TSA's security policies when a women accused them of being racist for pulling her out of the security line, after she had already gone through the full body scanner, simply so they could check her hair.
Laura Adiele felt she was being discriminated against after seeing women of other races with their hair pulled up passing through security with ease, while as a black woman with an afro tucked up into a curly bun, she was being being pulled aside.
Here's a fun little story to start your week off right. So, we're more than familiar with how air travelers constantly feel assaulted by the TSA's policies, including but not limited to Full-Body Scanning, Enhanced Pat-downs and even shoe removal. Well, last week, a traveler assaulted the TSA right back.
The incident went down at Phoenix-Sky Harbor Airport on Thursday, as a 61-year-old woman "grabbed" the left breast of a TSA agent at the security checkpoint. MSNBC comes through with the juicy details:
If we have one overarching criticism of the TSA, it's that the agency is perennially trying to defend us tomorrow from yesterday's threats. Their rules are designed with an eye toward the last attack rather than in anticipation of the next one. That was the problem with the almost inexplicably stupid anti-pillow, anti-GPS, anti-walking around regulations that TSA tried enforcing after the Christmas Day bomber used a pillow, looked at a GPS, and walked around.
If we have a second overarching criticism of the TSA, it's that they're perennially trying to defend us tomorrow from yesterday's attacks in the most obnoxious, intrusive, privacy-invading, citizen-degrading, and flat out expensive way imaginable.
This brings us to the full-body scanners that the agency purchased by the thousands after DC-based machine lobbies doubled in size, and which experts said 100 percent wouldn't catch anybody because terrorists would adapt. It also brings us to the story from this week, wherein TSA announced that terrorists were planning to adapt by implanting themselves with bombs in a way that full-body scanners couldn't detect. The hell you say.
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Today is the last day of the Texas House's special session, which means it's the last chance for Texas lawmakers to pass their TSA anti-groping bill. The bill, which would make conducting enhanced pat-downs a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, was first passed by the House, then modified and passed by the Senate, and is now back in the House for a final vote. As of publication time there's still no news on whether the vote is yay, nay, or nothing.
Will Texas lawmakers hold a vote in time? Which version of the bill will pass? What will the Texas public think? Who cares. This law is moronic. It won't pass in any recognizable form. If it passes in any form at all it will be struck down by the courts. If it isn't struck down by the courts TSA will pressure Texas until the law is repealed. This is our third post on the topic, and frankly we're starting to resent Texas just a little bit for continuing with this charade.
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No more removing your shoes. No more funneling your liquids into small plastic bottles, inside a little plastic baggie. No more revealing full-body scans. This is the future, if we are to believe anything coming out of the World Air Transport Summit in Singapore this week. A mock-up of a three-channel security lane system was just unveiled there, an idea from the IATA, or International Air Transport Association, and it looks goooood (not to mention appropriately futuristic).
The schematic calls for a "known traveler" lane (aka you've been pre-approved), a normal lane, and an enhanced security lane. The degree of screening and steps involved in each increase with security check level. For example, the known traveler lane doesn't seem to include in-depth scans for shoes and liquids, while the normal and enhanced lanes include everything from retinal scans to searching for traces of explosives. It didn't get past us that the only lane requiring the dreaded full-body scan is the enhanced security one, so good riddance.
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Given our level of respect for the average politician getting involved in the average travel-related controversy, very rarely will we tell you that an idea is so stupid that it absolutely won't happen. We've spent years covering federal lawmakers who, at the behest of Hotel and Restaurant lobbies, impose fines on foreign tourists in order to promote foreign tourism. After a spike in populist pressure from "passenger rights" lobbies, we saw Congress pass a predictably and obviously counterproductive tarmac law that increased cancellations without doing much about delays. That's the level of sophistication we've come to expect from state and federal officials.
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If the TSA is one of the least popular agencies in the federal government - and it is - then the agency's full-body scanners are one of the least popular techniques of one of the federal government's least popular agencies. TSA is trying to reduce public antipathy by introducing less invasive gingerbread man scans, but that technology isn't ready yet. Once it is, it will still take forever for people to notice the change, then to decide that they approve of the change, then to decide that they don't hate TSA any more because of the change.
Of course public disapproval equals political opportunity, so we periodically get the spectacle of public officials trying to make themselves look good by bashing TSA and its invasive techniques. A few months ago Texas lawmakers threatened to throw TSA employees in jail for conducting enhanced patdowns, which is moronic almost beyond words.
Now Congressional Republicans are taking aim at full-body scanners, with House GOP members threatening to zero out TSA's funding for new devices. Draft legislation doing exactly that was presented last week and, while it wouldn't do anything to remove existing machines, it would deny Homeland Security a requested $76 million for 275 new scanners.