TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

Summary: The U.S. 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.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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It's a strange feeling, these new full-body airport scanners.

You step forward, having been randomly selected from the line of passengers, unsure of what's going to happen if you haven't gone through the process before.

You step into the large circular machine and raise your arms like you're being held up at gunpoint. (The irony.) The massive machine hums, and a camera spins on each side of you. You try not to move a muscle.

The TSA guard motions toward you, you drop your hands and you're on your way to collect your things at the other end of the x-ray machine.

And now it's illegal -- at least for now.

The U.S. 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.

But it's not the controversial scanners themselves that fell on the wrong side of the law -- rather, it was the TSA's installation of them.

The Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. said 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" agents wave over passengers' clothed bodies -- and thus required different procedure.

The lawsuit was first filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, an advocacy group, in July 2010, arguing that the TSA acted unilaterally in making them a primary screening technique in domestic airports, violating the 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 Department of Homeland Security "initiated the most sweeping, the most invasive, and the most unaccountable suspicionless search of American travelers 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?

Editor's note: The original headline of this post indicated that the TSA must halt using the scanners; that is incorrect. Moving forward, it merely must act consistent with the court's ruling. We regret the error.

Topic: Hardware

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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35 comments
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  • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

    I don't like the airports of today.

    Am I off-base for saying that traveling by ship to Europe is not an alternative to airports? What about traveling from Tallahassee, FL to Manhattan, NY? Is Greyhound really an alternative to airport?

    I've started to not like airports. :(
    Grayson Peddie
    • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

      @Grayson Peddie This was one of the Crimes of the Century. Chertoff and Napolitano should get 20 years each and be forced along with the manufac<a href="http://www.tran33m.com/vb/">t</a>urers to pay restitution to the rest of us A<a href="http://vb.maas1.com/">m</a>ericans for these multimillion-dollar wastes of public funds.
      alasiri
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        "The U<a href="http://www.lacarhire.net">.</a>S<a href="http://www.ehireacar.com">.</a> Transportation Security Agency violated federal law when it installed full<a href="http://www.uk-djs.net">-</a> body scanners in American airports because it failed to follow proper procedures"

        Oh my<a href="http://www.us-djs.net">,</a> why does this not suprise me in the slightest<a href="http://www.global-djs.net">.</a>
        molly83
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        @alasiri "Grayson Peddie Th<a href="http://www.blumoo.co.uk">i</a>s was one of the Crimes of the Century. Chertoff and Napolitano should get 20 years each a<a href="http://www.gigsource.co.uk">n</a>d be forced along with the manufacturers to pay rest<a href="http://www.electronic-society.net">i</a>tution to the rest of us Americans for these multimillion-dollar wastes of p<a href="http://www.mp3freebee.com">u</a>blic funds."

        Spot on.
        mrswilliamson
  • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

    I wasn't aware we had rights
    job1866@...
    • I wasn't aware we had rights

      @job1866@... Not under George Bush nor the current white house occupant.
      sackbut
      • Since Bush is no longer president and hasn't been

        for over two years, why bring his name into this at all? Oh. Wait. You want to use a tu quoque to help the current guy not look so bad. Here's something to munch on: After two years, whatever policies are in place are owned 100% by the current administration.
        fr_gough
      • fr_gough: Methinks thou protestest too much

        Would you actually be saying that if the incumbent President was a Republican and his predecessor was a Democrat?
        John L. Ries
      • Funny story

        Congress passes laws, not the President.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        @sackbut What rights do you want the current white house occupant to grant you?
        nomorebs
      • @Reis

        Yes. I totally jumped on Bush for his domestic spending and have compared him to Nixon. Fairly conservative on foreign policy and an idiot liberal on domestic policy. Because I'm a conservative, not a Republican. It just so happens that the only place where conservatism still lives is the Republican party.
        fr_gough
    • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

      @goff256...

      Doesn't matter which party the puppet belongs to. Just research the Executive Orders Bush and King Barack have signed.

      The Obama can bypass Congress with a stroke of his pen. Any president can. All they need is a pretense (9/11/Patriot Act/War on Terror, etc.) that they're protecting us and the sheeple will blindly go along with just about anything. Read 1984 and watch the movie...if you can find it.

      As long as Dancing with the Stars is on and they can update their Facebook pages, the sheeple could care less about the dictators in DC.
      Hatestone Johnson
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        @Hatestone Johnson

        We don't have any dictators in DC. Go over to Iran if you truly want to see a dictator in action and fact.
        Lerianis10
      • And that's why we have the Supreme Court

        to stop illegal things from continuing.
        Michael Alan Goff
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        @Hatestone Johnson

        No joking here, 1984, it should be required study for college students. The sheeple just don't see the forest OR the trees. Thier game consoles, TVs, jet skis and SUVs keep them happy and satisfied. The American dream? No, the Amerikan nightmare.
        lcloria2
      • I agree with you

        @Hatestone Johnson

        Lerianis10, no. Perhaps we don't have dictators yet. Do you know at what juncture we'll be hitting the tipping point?
        sissy sue
    • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

      When I taught modern literature, 1984 was definitely (not "definitively") on my students' reading list. The parallels to the U.S. today are increasingly uncanny.
      Read it, and see if you don't agree. (By George Orwell:
      1984).
      So why address this to a bunch of tech heads? Because you folks have the brains and sense of responsibility that is rare nowadays.
      nikacat
  • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

    Random? :|
    Try flying through LAX. I routinely use terminal 1 and 6.
    Nothing random about it. Unless it is uber-bottle necked, you all go through.

    Random.,... HA!
    rhonin
    • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

      @rhonin I remember MSP being this way as well :/. Yeah, it was everyone when I flew, not "random."
      CobraA1
      • RE: TSA violated law when installing full body scanners, court says

        @CobraA1 I went through this machine in Las Vegas and in Philadelphia. Neither required all passengers to be scanned. Must depend on the time of day.
        andrew.nusca