Q&A on Lawsuit Against NYPD Scanners

Thanks again for your support — yesterday was awesome! 🙂 It feels so good to make a difference, and win or lose on the suit, the NYPD’s plans to scan people walking the sidewalks of the city are now front and center — before hundreds of these things were deployed. If we only would have hit the TSA hard when they were doing pilots of their scanners, I think we would have had a chance at stopping the whole thing, and I hope not to let that opportunity go to waste here.

I’m seeing some recurring questions and misconceptions in the comments here and on the news sites (NY Daily News, NY Post, Village Voice, Gothamist), so I wanted to comment more prominently on the following:

Q. These scanners don’t produce embarassing images like the TSA scanners… what’s the big deal?
A. The big deal about the NYPD scanners is not that they’re conducting an intrusive, invasive, or embarassing search. The big deal is that they’re conducting a search at all. The police may not search the people without individualized suspicion. They’re not even allowed to demand ID without reasonable suspicion. To allow them to search our bodies in any way is entirely novel to this great nation.

Q. If the scanners were more accurate / less prone to error / more specific, would you still be opposed?
A. Yes! NO SEARCH is allowed without reasonable suspicion. Even that is a stretch from the intent of the framers of the Constitution, who specifically called for probable cause (a much higher standard), but the Supreme Court has allowed police a limited exception for weapons checks at the lower standard of reasonable suspicion.

Q. Then how do you expect the police to get illegal guns off the streets?
A. These scanners actually bring New York’s gun laws front and center. In any other state, save for perhaps IL and DC, having a gun doesn’t presume you to be a criminal. In NY, it is so impossible to get a gun license that the police expect that they can scan the general public and anyone with a gun is almost certainly a criminal. People walking around with guns should not be presumed to be criminals in America, and the NYPD’s attempt to make it so is appalling. Chicago and DC’s handgun laws have been firmly slapped down over the past few years, and I expect NY will feel the same quite soon. For example, it is currently an impossibility for me to legally carry a gun in NY — the state does not accept out-of-state pistol permit applicants and honors no other state’s licenses. How is it that the second amendment guarantees our right to bear arms (as confirmed by the Supreme Court) yet I can’t legally do so in NY? Regardless, NY can do what every other state does: if you have reason to think someone has an illegal gun, get a search warrant.

Q. Why didn’t you bring up the radiation issue? These things are dangerous!
As best my research has led me at this point, I do not believe that NYPD scanners emit any radiation — they appear to be “passive” scanners, which means they are basically just digital cameras that capture a different type of light and run analysis on that light. They don’t put out their own light. If it comes out that these scanners do emit their own terahertz waves, we can look at the issue from there.

7 thoughts on “Q&A on Lawsuit Against NYPD Scanners

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  1. Terahertz units normally send out a beam and look at the reflections. However, this is the very high end of the radio band, at the levels of power they are using it should be harmless. It’s not like the backscatter units that irradiate the passengers.

  2. How long before they’re not just looking for guns but also knives? How long after that before they’re looking for drugs? How many false positives will these items generate?

  3. Some points for correction. “How is it that the fourth amendment guarantees our right to bear arms ” No, it doesn’t. That’s the second.

    4th is unreasonable searches.

    In your lawsuit, be sure to challenge under 14th amendment as well as 4th. (In a nutshell, the 14th forbids States from making or enforcing laws that impinge upon the rights guaranteed in the constitution.[you probably know that]) In the cases you site, it was ruled that the 14th also applies to the Federal District, and to Cities.

    And last, keep up the good fight. The TSA scanners, TSA Groping, Stop and frisk, this latest abomination too. It’s all unconstitutional and ineffective.

    And for pity’s sake, the lines are a security risk in their own right simply by putting lots and lots of potential victims within range of a small bomb. No need to pass thru security at all, take out the line.[HYPOTHETICALLY]

    Paul Dietrich (you probably saw my comments in the NYDN story, as paulmd199 and anonymous, the “anonymous” was a login glitch)

    1. Re: amendment number – corrected, thanks. I was on a roll… 😉

      Re: 14th – courts will interpret a 4th amendment lawsuit against the states as a lawsuit seeking redress for violations of the 4th amendment “as applied to the states by the 14th amendment” — the 14th amendment is implied.

      Re: security line, it’s not hypothetical. It happened in Moscow perhaps 2 years ago. The TSA has created many real risks, the security line being one of them.

  4. I posted a link to your blog on my Facebook cause page, Stop NYPD Body Scanners. I’m hoping to get some support. I started a petition on change.org and posted a link to the NYPD site for fans to contact Ray Kelly and voice their dissent. Please let me know if you have any suggestions on how to help get the message out there about these unconstitutional actions. People need to know, and need to be angry.

  5. “…it’s not hypothetical. It happened in Moscow perhaps 2 years ago.”

    It’s also depicted in the computer game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which I doubt many readers of this blog would like the game, or at least, this particular plot element: You’re in the role of an American pansy, undercover, trying to be buddy-buddy with bad guy protagonist Makarov, and you get to shoot up Moscow International Airport with RPDs and M4s (fortunately, you can finish the stage without shooting anyone who is unarmed.) At the end of the stage, Makarov rudely reveals that he knew your real identity before the stage even began by shooting you in the gut as you board the getaway van, leaving your character to bleed out on the tarmac. Of course, there are other characters you play in the game, one of which has an even worse fate.

    In other fiction, Shooting Wars (the comic book) opens with a suicide bomber blowing up a Starbucks(tm) while some no-name vlogger’s camera is rolling just outside the entrance. The queues I’ve seen at Tim Hortons in real life are tailor-made for your garden-variety Palestinian nail bomb, especially when they’re curled up inside a mall concourse in the winter with everyone wearing parkas that could hide an Barrett rifle. It hasn’t happened yet, and I hope it never does. That said, I think Isreal has had some similar experiences. I know that the Palestinian nail bomb likes transit buses.

    Don’t look now, but Jon, your link is busted. Try this one instead:


    From what I can see, it is a gimmick, and I’m quite certain that you can hide from it anything you dang well please by simply putting a hand warmer on top of it. It would also get a boatload of false positives from wallets, keys, cell phones, tablets, loose change, paperwork, flashlights, coat zippers, etc. It would be worse than useless in Regina today, where it is currently cold enough that people would be wearing every layer they own and gaps between them would mess with our terahertz emissions anyway. The “300g Simulated Explosives” could well be the guy’s tax return and a collection of ball point pens from a day of dropping off resumes. Whoopdy do. Train toy poodles to lick the target’s face when they smell explosives. That should work a lot better IMHO.

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