OverTheGeicoE writes: The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) recently filed a petition to force the Department of Homeland Security to start its public comment period on body scanners within 60 days or stop using them entirely. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has issued its ruling (PDF), and has refused EPIC's petition. DHS told the court earlier that it expected to have a formal rule proposal on body scanners by the end of February, so the court denied EPIC's motion on the expectation that public comment period would start by late March. TFA and this submission have a pessimistic headline on this ruling, but other sources seem to think the glass is half-full, and that EPIC in effect got what it wanted. Is this a victory or a defeat? Will the rulemaking process start on time, or will a TSA dog eat the proposed rule in late March and force further delay?
OverTheGeicoE writes: About a year ago, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on EPIC v. DHS, a lawsuit that sought to end TSA's use of body scanners. The Court found that DHS violated federal law by not seeking public comment before using body scanners as a primary search method. They ordered TSA to take public comment on its body scanning policy but did not require TSA to suspend its use of the scanners during the comment period. Several months later nothing had been done yet. One year later TSA has still done nothing, and even EPIC, the original plaintiff, seems to have given up. Others have apparently picked up the torch, however. Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, has posted a piece on Ars Technica about TSA's violation of the court order. He also started a petition on Whitehouse.gov asking TSA to comply with the order. An earlier petition ended with a non-response from TSA Administrator John Pistole. Will the latest petition fare any better, even in an election year?
OverTheGeicoE writes: CNET has a story on DHS' whole car X-ray scanners and their potential cancer risks. The story focuses on the Z Portal scanner, which appears to be a stationary version of the older Z Backscatter Vans. The story provides interesting pictures of the device and the images it produces, but it also raises important questions about the devices' cancer risks. The average energy of the X-ray beam used is three times that used in a CT scan, which could be big trouble for vehicle passengers and drivers should a vehicle stop in mid-scan. Some studies show the risk for cancer from CT scans can be quite high. Worse still, the DHS estimates of the Z Portal's radiation dosage are likely to be several orders of magnitude too low. 'Society will pay a huge price in cancer because of this,' according to one scientist.
OverTheGeicoE writes: Recently, TSA's 'Blogger Bob' Burns posted a rant against a cupcake on the TSA blog. Perhaps it made you wonder if TSA and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, really understand what we're saying about them, especially online. Well, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit from EPIC, we now know a lot more about how they monitor online comments aside from 'Blogger Bob.' EPIC has received hundreds of pages of documents regarding DHS' online surveillance program. These documents reveal that DHS has contracts with General Dynamics for '24/7 media and social network monitoring.' Perhaps it will warm your heart to know that DHS is particularly interested in tracking media stories that 'reflect adversely' on the US government generally and DHS specifically. The documents include a report summary that might be representative of General Dynamics' work. The example includes summaries of comments on blogs and social networking sites, including quotes. Then again, you might remember J. Edgar Hoover's monitoring of antiwar activists during the Vietnam War, which certainly wasn't for the protesters' benefit.
OverTheGeicoE writes: On Saturday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center announced that they filed papers in the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit to get the Department of Homeland Security to start its public comment process. In July the court ordered DHS to take public comment on airport body scanning, in accordance with federal law. The court allowed DHS and TSA to continue using scanners during the comment period. According to EPIC's filing the ruling against DHS became final on September 21 after EPIC's motion for a rehearing was denied. Since then, DHS has done nothing to comply with the order. EPIC wants DHS to release details for their public comment period process within 45 days. DHS is no stranger to the kind of notice and comment rulemaking that is being required of them. Earlier public comment on their Large Aircraft Security Program (LASP), which would have required draconian security on aircraft 10% of the size of a Boeing 737, did not go so well. They received 7400 comments 'vehemently opposed' to LASP in 2008 and 2009 and are still reworking the plan in response to the comments received. How will DHS manage the public comment period for body scanners, which directly affects many millions more Americans than LASP does? Would DHS prefer to take their chances in court, including an appeal to the Supreme Court if need be, rather than face the public over their body scanners?
OverTheGeicoE writes: The Electronic Privacy Information Center received more FOIA documents from the US Department of Homeland Security regarding mobile x-ray scanners (a.k.a. Z Backscatter Vans). We've discussed these devices before. Perhaps the most interesting part is slide #11 ("Disclaimer About Scanning People") on page 6 of this PDF explaining that the radiation output of these devices is too high to comply with ANSI N43.17. In other words, they output too much radiation even by TSA's questionable standards for airport body scanners. Regardless, the slide ends with the author stating that the ANSI standard "is not applicable to covert operations". What might that assertion have meant to the presentation's intended audience?