This blog began in 2010 to document my lawsuit against the beginning of the TSA’s body scanner program. From that time until 2015, the body scanner was “optional” for all passengers — so long as you didn’t mind being molested by a blue-gloved screener during their “full-body pat-downs.” This was part of the reason that no court has struck down these body scanners as unconstitutional: because, they say, passengers are consenting to use them (even though that “consent” is coerced by offering the alternatives of “let us touch your junk” or “don’t fly”). But, at the end of 2015, the TSA announced that they would reserve the right to refuse to allow these body scanner “opt-outs” at their discretion, and I immediately filed suit.
There are two really interesting issues in this case that I hope may cause a wrinkle for the TSA:
- The original body scanner rule in 2010 was issued without “notice-and-comment rulemaking,” a procedure required by Congress whereby agencies that make rules first have to ask the public for input. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit ruled that the TSA violated this procedure and, although normally that would require them to stop enforcing the rule (i.e., stop using the body scanners), the Court, fearful that the body scanners actually protect us, simply ordered the TSA to take comment after the fact. The new body scanner rule limiting opt-outs was also issued without public comment, and I’ve asked the court to, this time, put some teeth into forcing the TSA to actually follow procedure before issuing a rule.
- The TSA is arguing that it needs to be able to force some passengers through the body scanner because, they allege, it is more secure than a full-body pat-down. But, this is objectively untrue. Besides the fact that I proved the scanners to be beatable in 2012, think about this: if one alerts a body scanner, the result is… a pat-down of the area of the body that generated the alert! How could this possibly be more secure than a full-body pat-down that would have touched that area of the body and more? The function of the body scanners is to narrow down those people who do not need to be patted down to save time, not to make a pat-down more secure. Body scanners don’t find weapons — pat-downs do.
This case lives in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and the procedure for cases there is a written brief filed by the person filing the case, an opposing brief filed by the other side, and then a reply brief again by the filer, after which the court may rule on the case. Yesterday I submitted my reply brief after nearly a year and a half of delay, and so, the case is now “fully briefed,” meaning the judges can decide it at any point (or can ask for the parties to argue in-person, or can ask for more evidence, or, basically, whatever they want). Realistically, I expect it more likely that they will decide without in-person arguments, probably towards the end of the summer. I’m not holding my breath — the game is rigged, and the TSA gets almost complete control over what evidence the court sees, some of which I don’t even get to see (wouldn’t want the public to see things like how often their testing shows the body scanners miss a weapon, because that would be, well, embarrassing).
Corbett v. TSA IV – Opening Brief (article)