Monday, 28 February 2011

TSA Complaint - A Response from Senator Scott Brown

A couple weeks ago I wrote a letter to several US government officials complaining about the behaviour of the Transportation Security Administration in the wake of the conclusion to the criminal case against Phil Mocek, who was found Not Guilty without presenting a case. Here is that letter. Today I've had a response from my Senator, Scott Brown (R) MA. It is an entirely unsatisfactory response, having completely missed the point of my letter. It is obviously a cut-and-paste answer to any query concerning the TSA, most of which are apparently related to their controversial security procedures. Most likely the Senator never even saw my letter. Here is the response from Senator Brown, or one of his aides.

Dear Matthew,
Thank you for contacting me regarding the recent changes in Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) security procedures. I always value your input on all issues and appreciate hearing from you.
As you may know, on June 24, 2010, Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT) introduced the SAFER AIR Act, which would implement new forms of airport screening technology. S. 3536 would authorize the use of full-body scan machinery to search for weapons, explosives, or other hazardous materials that are otherwise undetectable. While this bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration during the 111th Congress, the Administration began testing this type of program and has implemented it in select airports nationwide. Many of the concerns voiced about these procedures have surrounded the health implications of millimeter wave technology utilized by these full-body scan machines. The TSA has assured travelers that the non-ionizing radio frequency energy emitted by the machines is safe, and gives off about 100,000 times less energy than that of talking on a cell phone. 
For those concerned about their privacy as a result of images taken by the full-body scanning machines, please know the TSA worked closely with the manufacturers of these machines to make sure that the capabilities to store and send the images were removed prior to installation. Additionally, there are specific prohibitions on the Department of Homeland Security from retaining images used in airport scanning and require that faces of individuals be blurred. You may be interested to know the imaging technology is of lesser quality than that of basic photography and does not present sufficient detail to be used for personal identification. 
In addition to the full-body imaging machines, the TSA has also implemented new pat-down procedures for those air travelers who opt out of using the full-body imaging machines. According to the TSA, these new pat-down procedures are designed to prevent another "Christmas Day" style attack, where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb concealed in his underwear.
The TSA has stated that these new pat-down procedures are part of a multi-layered security protocol that, along with explosive trace detection, the full-body imaging technology, and canine teams, has been implemented to ensure the safety of the traveling public. Most recently, on November 19, 2010, the TSA agreed to let airline pilots skip the security scanning and pat-downs in response to pilot groups voicing concern about the bolstered security. As the TSA continues to receive feedback from the public, other revisions could be made to parts of the new security procedures. 
Our nation's number one goal when it comes to airport security must be the deterrence of terrorist attacks. I certainly understand the concerns of some regarding the new screening procedures, and I agree that these procedures must be as non-intrusive as possible and respectful of Americans’ privacy concerns. But when it comes to our families’ safety, I come down on the side of caution. Protecting American lives is the most important thing to me during these times of potential terrorist threats. As a member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, I will continue to be actively engaged in these issues and related policies. As the legislative process moves forward in the 112th Congress, I will be closely monitoring the implementation of these security procedures. 
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. If you have any additional questions or comments, please feel free to contact me or visit my website at
Scott P. Brown
United States Senator

My letter did not discuss the security procedures in use by the TSA. It sought to highlight an apparently arbitrary use of power by TSA agents with the support of police to interfere with lawful activities of travellers. Mr Mocek was arrested and charged with four separate offences for using a video recorder during a TSA screening in a public area of an airport and for failing to provide identification when ordered to. The jury found him Not Guilty on all charges solely on the weakness of the prosecution's case. Despite this, there is little reason to believe that the TSA will correct this type of behaviour, which I'm led to believe is commonplace. The TSA do not publish their standard operating procedures and have refused a Freedom of Information Act request for the disclosure of these, creating an impossible situation for an air traveller wishing to assert his or her rights. Senator Brown, you've not heard the last of me.

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