The US Transportation Security Agency violated federal law when it installed full-body scanners in American airports, because it failed to follow proper procedures, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.
It's not the controversial scanners themselves that fell on the wrong side of the law — rather, it's the TSA's installation of them.
The Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington DC said that the agency was not exempt from laws that require federal agencies to first notify the public and seek comment.
Because the scanners produce an image of an unclothed passenger, the court found them more intrusive of personal privacy than "magnetometers" — the "wands" that agents wave over passengers' clothed bodies — and thus required different procedure.
The lawsuit was first filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group, in July 2010, arguing that the TSA acted unilaterally in making them a primary screening technique in domestic airports. This violated the US Administrative Procedure Act, which stipulates that an interested person has the right to petition — and a response — for the issuance, amendment or repeal of a rule.
The group filed a petition in 2009 with no luck.
In EPIC's November 2010 opening remarks, the group argued that the US Department of Homeland Security "initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travellers in history", adding that the TSA "must comply with relevant law, and it must not be permitted to engage in such a fundamental change in agency practice without providing the public the opportunity to express its views".
As you might expect, EPIC also argues that the machines themselves violate privacy laws.
In today's decision, it's clear that the court finds them more intrusive, but the question remains: are they intrusive enough to warrant further restriction?
Via ZDNet US