Comment Period for TSA Proposed Nude Body Scanner Rule Ends; 97% Opposed

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The TSA’s 2.5 year delayed notice and comment rulemaking, allowing them to use nude body scanners as primary screening in U.S. airports, came to a close yesterday after 3 months of accepting public feedback.

At the time of writing, the TSA has admitted to receiving 4,321 comments, a number sure to increase as they continue to post them (for example, mine hasn’t yet reached the public site). They are overwhelmingly in opposition to the proposed rule. I went through the last 100 posted, and of them:

  • 97% were in opposition
  • 2% were in favor
  • 1% did not appear to take a position

At least 20 people mentioned me by name (all in opposition, of course), a handful of others mentioned my blog or my video, and at least one likely TSA Out of Our Pants reader took my suggestion and simply told the TSA that they suck. (Thanks Kristina out in L.A.!)

What happens now? The TSA has to review and respond to the comments, and then can decide whether or not to adopt the proposed rule. They unfortunately have great leeway in their decision (for example, the USPS once adopted a rule after receiving 10 comments in favor and 8,097 in opposition). The good news is that they have to consider every comment and respond to every reason that people have given them to get rid of the nude body scanners, or else face lawsuits (for example, by me :)).

Thank you to all who took the time to get involved. You’ve ended the TSA’s gloating that poorly-worded and implemented opinion polls show that Americans don’t really mind the scanners. Your comments make a difference and allow us another avenue to fight!

My Comment – Comment of Jonathan Corbett (.pdf)

34 thoughts on “Comment Period for TSA Proposed Nude Body Scanner Rule Ends; 97% Opposed

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  1. Really interesting stuff.

    Out of interest, why don’t we lobby for a change to the new IR scanners which just read the passive infrared emissions from the body to detect the presence of objects on the body. It’s completely safe and non-invasive.

    1. Jacky,

      you’re one of the first people i’ve seen suggest using the passive terahertz radiation scanners besides myself, very glad to see it!

      iirc several muslim countries use this scanning method to (1) keep scans halal and (2) to avoid emitting and exposing people to radiation of a frequency that is not well-studied. the way i see it, passively observing radiation i and my belongings emit is a much better option than what is currently in US airports.


      1. To facilitate the change to IR scanners, first have a few government officials, or senators etc. invest in them. Then sit back and watch the speed with which they install the “new” technology.

    2. It has been demonstrated just how useless the X-ray backscatter and millimeter wave radar scanners are. The passive terahertz scanners are even worse and still generate much more of a “nude image” than metal detectors. Part of the problem this blog is addressing is the lack of security at US airports, not just the privacy issues. WTMDs are still first place in both privacy and security.

      As for the ATD argument, existing AIT already has a 97% (wink*wink*nudge*nudge) false alarm rate that requires what the TSA politely calls “secondary screening” (to put it equally politely, but much more exactly, video coverage of TSA secondary screening of minors violates section 163.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, so I need to be careful while link diving the TSA on Youtube!!) ATD passive terahertz scanners would only make _this_ situation worse, and I’m sure you don’t want that. (Note: if you don’t get this, do a couple searches, I’m not about to write that crap sandwich in clear language in a public forum.)

      1. The passive scanners (using terahertz imaging) are much less offensive at airport checkpoints than the current active technology. They are good only for detecting larger objects (for example, a gun on your side, not a gram of marijuana in your pocket) and can be used while people wait in the checkpoint line (great to avoid people blowing up the checkpoint line). They’re also considerably cheaper. If the TSA wanted to get rid of active scanners and screen using WTMD, random ETD, and random/as available passive scanning, I would actually consider that a fair compromise. Note that passive scanning should not begin until one reaches the checkpoint and should end before they leave the checkpoint.

  2. My comment cannot be found on I searched by my comment tracking number and by using a sentence from my comment. No results. I adamantly oppose the scanners.

  3. Update. I did a site-wide search and was given this message: “Comment Tracking Number Match. This comment was received in but is not yet posted. Please contact the agency directly for more information.”

  4. Many thanks for your work exposing how easily the scanners can be fooled. Our organization concurs with you and was one of those who cited your work. Bravo!

    Douglas Kidd
    Natl Assn of Airline Passengers

  5. A questionable “Radiation Dose from Airport Scanners” report( by an independent task force commissioned by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has found that people absorb less radiation from airport X-ray backscatter scanner than they do while standing in line waiting for the scan itself.

    AAPM reports that measurements made on two scanners in active use at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), as well as seven other scanners not in active use at the time of measurement, found that full-body scanners deliver a radiation dose equivalent to what a standard man receives every 1.8 minutes on the ground, or every twelve seconds during an airplane flight.

    1. Dare I even ask how dog-wielding TSOs handle people with allergies to dog fur & people with severe dog phobias?

  6. I do not know if this is the place to start, but I was found to have an “anomaly” by their scanners and then they decided that a “pat down” included ripping out surgical stitches and dislodging a surgical drainage tube on my right breast from a medical procedure that I had undergone that morning. I sent the following letter to my Senators and Representative as well as TSA and even the White House. Naturally, I am being ignored by TSA, but my Congressional Representatives did send me assuring letters that their staff was looking into the extreme nature of their abuse.

    I do not know how else to “go press” with this horror. And I don’t know how else to get the attention of someone other than a poor “barely over minimum wage” employee at a call center.

    Perhaps someone else will know what else I can do.


    Dear Representative:

    Summary: TSA’s abuse of power must be stopped
    I beg you to use your power as a US Senator to Contact John Pistole with the common sense improvements discussed at the end of this letter and have him send a directive to all Federal Security Directors in the USA and demand implementation of these 9 common-sense directions which are not in any way in violation of TSA policy.
    I beg you to please demand it be made TSA policy that a person’s external sex organs be declared sensitive areas to be treated with the utmost care. I had to have additional surgery on my right breast because of a TSA employee’s actions. It is blatant sex discrimination that a woman’s breasts are not considered sensitive by TSA, and that she may be touched there in a public arena without any concern for pain or humiliation that this may cause her.
    I beg you to demand that the airport’s Federal Security Director’s name and contact information (i.e. be vividly displayed at each TSA checkpoint at each airport in the USA and even that business cards be made available to the general public as well as complaint forms. The complaint forms at SMF were well hidden under a basket behind a computer such that a TSA supervisor had to search for them.
    I beg you to unite with Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and indeed all of Congress in creating an Air Traveler’s Bill of Rights and a “Trusted Traveler” list so that we skinny 56 year old grandmothers do not have to be insulted and assaulted the way I was at SMF which required additional surgery in Seattle..
    Finally, I beg you to have John Pistole issue a mandate demanding the allowance of a second or even third machine screening. Machines fail and malfunction. Last January I could have avoided pain and suffering at SMF if I had remembered to remove a quarter-dollar sized silver medallion from around my neck. And upon removing the medallion be able to re-screen.

    This happened to me on June 14, 2013 and I have had no response other than a couple of phone calls since then. I am a voting member of your State, but all the Senate must unite to stop TSA’s abuse of power. I implore you to use your immense power as a Senator of the USA to motivate changes in the operations in TSA and especially those changes listed below which are little more than common sense and in no conflict with existing TSA regulations. People are screaming and protesting the invasive, unwarranted and insulting violations of our bodies so that we can simply take a 1 hour flight. Further, the assumption of innocence has been abandoned along with our rights against unreasonable searches and TSA’s blatant indifference to any protection from pain or harm is egregious. TSA says that if I don’t want to deal with this not to fly, but my response is that I, like everyone else encounter situations where an important event cannot be accomplished when the limited time is used for ground travel instead of air flight so that the deeds that need to be taken care of are appropriately addressed. I am certain that I am not alone here, and I am also certain that the airlines would like to know how many of us avoid air travel solely because of the fear TSA generates in the hearts of many like myself.

    I flew out of SMF (Sacramento International Airport) 4 times in the last 2 years and each of those 4 times, I have suffered pain or harm ranging from mild pain to the need for surgical intervention at my destination. This last time, June 14, 2013, I had to have additional surgical intervention at my destination because of the callous disregard and blatant sadism of the TSA personnel at SMF. SMF is the only airport in American airspace that I have been tormented, tortured or otherwise harmed. Further, when I returned, I asked for Kimberley Siro’s (Federal Security Director) contact information and was thwarted. She apparently has her staff well trained to keep any bad information from her, and this hypothesis was well supported when she told me that 99.9% of the feedback she got was positive. Anyone who has taken even a single course in statistics knows that in any random sample, sampling error significantly exceeds 0.1% and even though it does not prove my hypothesis that her staff filters her information so that all she gets are good reports, it does tend to support it. Further, when I tried to pin her down on how her statistic was generated, she confessed that it was not mathematical at all but rather her impression from the reports she had read further supporting my hypothesis that her staff is keeping important information from her. Indeed I asked her if she read the TSA blogs where people have gone to the TSA website and complained. She said that she did not, and I told her that she should be spending at least an hour a day there understanding that the American People are getting fed up at the way we are treated at the airport.

    I have protested to TSA, my local House Representative, Doris Matsui, The White House, and to Kimberley Siro herself. I also sent a letter to John Pistole. I have copied a letter that I sent to Ms Siro, and I hope that you read it because it contains many of the complaints that I am reading on line and in the news. Motivating citizens to reign in Government abuses is difficult out of fear of retaliation, basic indifference, or lack of knowledge of how to go about actually doing something.

    I have no response from TSA other than the insults heaped upon me by James Smith of SMF and the conversation with Kimberly Siro. Attached is the letter summarizing my conversation with her. It should be well noted that she never expressed any sympathy or regret at the level of damage and pain her staff caused me, and her staff member James Smith told me the most outrageous insult of all and that is that a woman’s breasts are not considered sensitive areas, and may be invaded at will in a public arena. If that is not an outrageous example of sex discrimination, I would like a keener one.

    I would also like to know where it is profiled that a skinny 56 year old grandmother wearing bandages is a threat to the safety of USA air travel and further, that it is TSA policy and regulations to rip open her surgical wound and dislodge her surgical drainage tube.

    Thank you!

    Attachment: Letter to Kimberley Siro

    To: Kimberley Siro
    Federal Security Director
    Sacramento International Airport
    6900 Airport Blvd
    Sacramento, CA 95837

    From: North Highlands, CA 95660

    June 20, 2013
    Ms. Siro:
    Pursuant to our telephone conversation, I will summarize and comment as follows with copies to Congressional Representative Doris Matsui’s Office, Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, and to TSA Headquarters.
    You stated both that what happened to me was anomalous and that the feedback you get from citizens is 99.9% positive. I responded with inquiring how that statistic was generated, and you said that it was not mathematically (statistically) generated but rather was your assessment based on what you read. This statistic is therefore neither factual nor reliable. You changed your assessment while we were on the phone to “mostly positive” and since the term “mostly” means greater than half and is still quantitative, I will leave that on the table as needing to be validated but more realistic than your first statement. Instinctively, my response is that your sample is not random nor validated in any way, and I could go on for pages with faults in the way that your “statistics” are generated
    My response to your statement is that – like myself the 3 previous times I have been through SMF – unawareness, general inconvenience and fear of retaliation tend to keep the general public from complaining especially to a Federal agency. The general consensus is that since Federal Agencies are usually immune from litigation, and people generally do not know to contact Congress about complaints, they just don’t want to bother. For this reason and many others, abuses are allowed to continue unanswered, employees are not held accountable, and people will simply suffer the injustice of having their rights trampled.
    It was not until your staff crossed the line in damaging me to the need of additional surgery that I was outraged enough not to care about any of those things, and being on vacation this week gave me the time I need to thoroughly complain about the abuse and torture I experienced at SMF. In theory, TSA is not allowed to retaliate against a citizen who complains, but my recent experience with both TSA and HIPAA has given me a 73.7% Z-tail validated certainty that regulations are ignored upon convenience. I have not computed the type II error in my evaluation, and I am not likely to proceed with this analysis. As this is four injuries for four flights out of SMF, it gives me enough data to rebut that what is happening to me is anomalous, however, it would be very difficult for me to get enough information to perform a valid study on the breadth and scope of the damage and humiliation that is happening not only to me at SMF but to other similarly situated people. Further, it is not up to me as a citizen to do your quality control without compensation. It should be made easy and clear that every citizen, whether victimized or not, is able and encouraged to complain loud and long and clear about the mistreatment at SMF. Since SMF is in Representative Matsui’s district, copies should go to her office along with the 2 California Senators, Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. The complaint forms should be very visible and very accessible. Your staff should enthusiastically encourage them to be used and not hide them far away from the work area under a basket behind a computer so that even a supervisor has to search for them. Personally, I would like to see a huge banner reading something like “TSA Complaint forms here” accompanied by a complaint box so that a citizen can register a complaint within a matter of seconds.
    It is totally within your authority to move the complaint forms and make them immediately visible and accessible and to further instruct your staff to encourage citizens to use them. I did not use one, but it seems to me that it should be half sheet, check boxes and comment line with a signature date and contact method. Also, a sign that directs people to the TSA web page for further complaint detail would be a very good idea. Do not expect the general public to know these things, because I am far better educated (post graduate degree) than the general public and I did not know about the complaint process and the TSA Ombudsman until I was so utterly outraged by the harm and agony TSA caused me that I looked it up. Informing citizens of these things is the single most important thing you can do, and I refer you to the following:

    Education and the Quality of Government
    Juan Botero, Alejandro Ponce, Andrei Shleifer
    NBER Working Paper No. 18119
    Issued in June 2012
    NBER Program(s): PE POL
    Generally speaking, better educated countries have better governments, an empirical regularity that holds in both dictatorships and democracies. We suggest that a possible reason for this fact is that educated people are more likely to complain about misconduct by government officials, so that, even when each complaint is unlikely to succeed, more frequent complaints encourage better behavior from officials. Newly assembled individual-level survey data from the World Justice Project show that, within countries, better educated people are more likely to report official misconduct. The results are confirmed using other survey data on reporting crime and corruption. Citizen complaints might thus be an operative mechanism that explains the link between education and the quality of government. (emphasis added)

    You may purchase this paper on-line in .pdf format from ($5) for electronic delivery
    You do not need Congressional approval to demand that your staff inform citizens of their options. Indeed before any “pat down” a citizen should be given the equivalent of a Miranda Card (even a laminated page to be returned to the TSA) so that they may have the opportunity to demand options that are available to them.
    Another topic we discussed was communications responsibility. You kept telling me that *I* should have told… and that *I* should have said. I think we did end up agreeing that it is up to your staff to inform the public and that it is not up to the general public to have the ins-and-outs of the TSA operations manual memorized. TSA knows – or should – what options are available, and not expect the public to. I know some of them now, and I intend to learn more before I fly the next time. I think that it is because of TSA’s attitude that it is the citizen who needs to be the proactive one that TSA has been able to get away with the abuses that have been heaped upon the citizenry. I have been all over the TSA web site, and I have filed complaints there and I have learned only a very trivial amount from studying every click on that web site. I have not yet requested further information under FOIA, because I am not yet sure exactly what to request. I have been hurt and harmed so significantly by TSA, that my ability to be even abruptly civil to your staff is severely questioned. It would be impossible for me to engage in conversation. Your staff has hurt, harmed or tortured me for 100% (true and accurate statistic) of my flights over the past 2 years and my expectations are that they will do so on my next flight in spite of going to “TSA Cares.”
    SMF is the only airport in the USA where this has happened to me! No other TSA agent at any other airport in American airspace has caused me pain or harm. This indicates that something is severely wrong at SMF!
    It is not up to the general public to know what to do, it is up to your employees to tell and to offer every possible option to a citizen, and to explain what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. It also should be mandatory that TSA staff sanitize their hands and change gloves between screenings. They should never touch 2 citizens consecutively without sanitizing their hands above the wrist and using new sterile gloves. (This is the same requirement of every nurse in every hospital, so it is not unreasonable.) The discussion between my surgeon and me is protected information however I did tell you that my antibiotics and pain medicine were both augmented as a result of this recent and absolutely avoidable complication. Because TSA’s gloves were dirty, my surgeon is treating this as a gross contamination of an open and deep wound. Generally speaking, all manner of nasty viruses and bacteria live on the skin and in the clothes, and are typically benign on intact skin. Abrasions, excoriations and open wounds increase the danger to the human body from surface contaminants significantly and, especially for human beings with compromised immune systems, these microorganisms have the potential to be lethal. If, for example, the person ahead of me had had asymptomatic tuberculosis, and since your staff did not sanitize or change before touching me, then there is a huge possibility that the TSA employee may have infected me with tuberculosis. In spite of effective therapy, TB is still a horrible disease that I would rather not have to fight, and since we do not know what the person ahead of me may have had, I have to be treated as if exposed to both gram positive and gram negative contamination. All infected wounds are bad things, but for one this deep to become infected due to TSA’s actions would be very bad indeed!
    You have the authority to demand that your staff change their gloves and sanitize their hands between touching citizens.
    We discussed the outrageous indifference of James Smith to my plight, and his grossly offensive statement that a woman’s breasts are not a sensitive area. Not only was I damaged and hurt, I was humiliated by your staff by this public touching of my right breast and this man’s indifference is one event that I include with my overall impression and low regard for TSA at SMF, along with 100% pain at 100% of flights.
    You have the authority to declare that a woman’s breasts (or area from the collar bone to the waist) and a man’s testicles (all of the general groin area) are sensitive areas and will be treated by your staff with all the gentleness of examining a second-degree burn or bandaged wound! Further, this will be done out of the public view, with clean gloves and at least 1 witness – hopefully someone of rank. You have the authority to demand that your staff inquire if there is any compelling reason that the citizen should not be touched there, or otherwise extra caution be taken.
    If I had been a man complaining that your staff had squeezed my testicles right after a vasectomy, I am absolutely certain that James Smith’s reaction would have been far different. 20/20 hind sight does indicate that it was about time to change the bandage on my surgical wound anyway, and it could have been done in a private place, and your staff could have visually seen the drainage tube and stitches and not have touched me in the first place. If your employee had given me a full 2 or 3 seconds, I would have had time to process the information that she was going to touch me, but she barely finished her statement before she poked me and dislodged my drainage tube and tore my stitch.
    We discussed another manner in which communication can be augmented at SMF. There is an electronic bulletin board at the staging area. I was reading about how – soon- we would not have to take off our shoes etc. On that same bulletin board, it would be significantly more important to have a screen that says something like “If you are to be pat down, you have the following rights:” and then list them in bullet format. This information is FAR more valuable not only to me but to the general citizenry than removing shoes. You said that TSA did not own the bulletin board however, every screen was about TSA information. This would be information that is far more important to the public than shoes, and I have a high degree of confidence that the bulletin board owners would be very cooperative about including such an important snippet of information.
    It has been made very clear to me that no consequences will accrue to the TSA employee who caused me such pain and damage, however this incident does have the potential to bring the opportunity for several points of improvement to SMF.
    1. First and most importantly, I will NEVER be tortured, damaged or harmed by TSA at SMF again. If I suffer 1 neuron-firing of pain there I will scream loud enough to be heard 3 airports over – not just 3 airlines over and long enough to be heard from Sacramento to Washington DC and back.
    • 2. That by your authority, the complaint forms will be moved to plain sight and all citizens will be encouraged to use them, especially ones who have to be touched. Best would be to also directly hand a complaint form to anyone who has to be “pat down.”
    • 3. By your authority, you will render it mandatory among your staff that hands are sanitized and gloves are changed after each use. No 2 humans will be touched with the same gloves.
    • 4. By your authority, you will declare that human being’s external sex organs are sensitive areas that will be treated with extreme caution and gentleness in a private area witnessed by at least 1 other person – preferable of at least 1 additional rank.
    • 5. By your authority you will declare that the direction of communication will be from TSA to the general public and interrogatives such as “Do you have a sore here? Is there anything I should know about? Do you hurt anywhere?” will be the norm and not the exception.
    • 6. By your authority a list of options will be developed to inform a person in writing of critical rights that they have i.e. privacy, clean gloves, witnesses, parents remaining with their children etc. This will be in addition to verbal communication since some people are deaf. Interactive communication will be encouraged as well to verbally inform citizens that they have the rights listed on the paper unless it is obvious that they can read and understand them. If a person does not read at all, or is not fluent in English, these rights can be translated, and/or a polyglot employee summoned.
    • 7. By your authority no pat down will happen until the TSA employee explains the process and unless the person acknowledges and approves the procedure. If the citizen does not approve, other options will be offered. The citizen will be given the opportunity to exercise any and all rights that will be fully explained to the passenger, and certainly enough time will be allowed for the citizen to react.
    • 8. By your authority, you will contact the owners of the electronic bulletin board that contains TSA information to have the passenger’s rights detailed on the bulletin board. This bill of rights will certainly include that no parent needs to be away from their minor child. If this means getting rid of the shoe information – get rid of it. Not being tortured is more important than taking off shoes.
    • 9. It is impossible to accomplish, but you will encourage your staff not to leave their common sense, common courtesy and common decency at home when they come to work. A rule of thumb might be: If you wouldn’t want this done to you in the middle of the mall, do it behind the screen in private.
    • I trust that most of these points will be implemented if I ever have to fly out of SMF again. We did discuss how I could fly out of OAK or SFO, but I live 8 miles from SMF and TSA did not volunteer to pay my additional transportation costs. Using another airport to avoid the systematic abuses and problems at SMF is not an answer to the problem. Fixing the problems at SMF is the answer to the problem, and most of all, ending the abuse of power at that airport is most important. The Supreme Court may have taken away our Fourth Amendment rights to search, but they did not give rights to harm, torture, cause pain, humiliate, endanger, embarrass, etc the general public with complete immunity. The presumption of innocence still exists somewhere in this country, and the right not to be hurt or harmed probably still does.

    1. It does not surprise me that this atrocity happened at SMF. This airport is VERY broken and I have been complaining from Sacramento to Washington DC and back about the atrocities at that airport that are perpetrated on the general public a daily basis. I totally encourage Corporal Kemnitz to call and demand to talk to Kimberley Siro, Federal Security Director at SMF and tell her directly what happened to him.

      I am a scrawny, 56 year old grandmother who had her surgical wound ripped open and her surgical drainage tube dislodged by TSA on June 14, 2013. When I tried to get in touch with Kimberley Siro, I was referred to James Smith who told me that my private parts could be groped at will in a public arena parts – which would result in a sexual assault charge anywhere except TSA – and that I had to suffer the indignity. The day that American Airspace is made safer by torturing scrawny little grandmothers and decorated war heroes is the day that we are in more trouble than mere words can describe.

      Everyone reading this needs to get in touch with TSA’s change of command and demand that this very very broken airport be fixed. Something is horribly wrong at Sacramento International (SMF) and someone with rank needs to get in there and fix it. I have flown out of dozens of other airports across American and European Airspace, and only at SMF am I ever hurt, damaged, tortured, humiliated etc.

      It should also be noted that Kimberley Siro has her staff well trained that only good reports come to her because it took the intervention of Congressional Representative Matsui for me to be able to contact her and then she told me the absolutely preposterous lie that 99.9% of her reports were positive. I told her that anyone who even took high school statistics knows that sampling error always exceeds 0.1% and that her statement was neither factual nor reliable.

      It is not only the case that TSA considers the Fourth Amendment dead and trampled, they consider that they have been given license to torture citizens at will, and no one can stop them.

  7. A questionable “Radiation Dose from Airport Scanners” report( by an independent task force commissioned by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) has found that people absorb less radiation from airport X-ray backscatter scanner than they do while standing in line waiting for the scan itself.

    AAPM reports that measurements made on two scanners in active use at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), as well as seven other scanners not in active use at the time of measurement, found that full-body scanners deliver a radiation dose equivalent to what a standard man receives every 1.8 minutes on the ground, or every twelve seconds during an airplane flight.

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