EPIC testifies before Homeland Security Hearing advising it suspend body scanner use at airports

EPIC testifies before Congressional hearing suggesting government documents conflict with policy n how Body scanner technology will be used by the TSA.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor

The Electronic Privacy Information Center went before the House Homeland Security Committee urging the members to suspend the Transportation Security Agency deployment of 150 new body scanners at airports across the United States.

Marc Rotenberg testified, based on documents that EPIC has obtained the following concerns need to be addressed:

  • The device specifications for body scanners include the ability to store: record, and transfer images, contrary to the representations made by the TSA
  • The device specifications include hard disk storage, UB integration; Ethernet connectivity that raise significant privacy and security concerns
  • The device specifications include "super user" (Level Z") status that allows TSA employees to disable filters and to export raw images; and
  • DHS Privacy office failed to adequately assess the privacy impact of these devices.

The TSA website states the opposite occurs:

  • Strict privacy safeguards are built into the foundation of TSA's use of advanced imaging technology to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity.
  • The officer who assists the passenger never sees the image the technology produces.
  • The officer who views the image is remotely located, in a secure resolution room and never sees the passenger.
  • To further protect passenger privacy, millimeter wave technology blurs all facial features and backscatter has an algorithm applied to the entire image.
  • The two officers communicate via wireless headset. Once the remotely located officer determines threat items are not present, that officer communicates wirelessly to the officer assisting the passenger. The passenger may then continue through the security process.
  • Advanced imaging technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image.
  • Officers evaluating images are not permitted to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room.
  • Each image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer.

During a White House Video roundtable "Open for Questions" Homeland Security Janet Napolitano confirmed this policy.

Marc Rotenberg was asked by Chairwomen Jackson Lee what recommendations it would make to strike a balance between technology screening processes and privacy concerns. Rotenberg replied that a layered approach of baggage, human observation and mix of technology is the best approach. "Those that are the most intrusive (technology) are the most concerning" Chairwoman Lee responded "not sure we will completely agree with that approach".

Witnesses testifying before the Committee :

Mr. Robin Kane Assistant Administrator Security Technology Transportation Security Administration

Mr. Bradley Buswell Deputy Under Secretary Science and Technology Directorate Department of Homeland Security

Dr. Susan Hallowell Director Transportation Security Laboratory Department of Homeland Security

Mr. Stephen Lord Director Homeland Security and justice team Government Accountability Office Mr. Kenneth J. Dunlap

Director of Security

International Air Transport Association

Mr. Charles Barclay


American Association of Airport Executives

Col. Eric R. Potts (Ret.)

Interim Aviation Director

Houston Airport System

Mr. Marc Rotenberg

Executive Director

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Mr. Brook Miller

Vice President, Government Affairs

Smiths Detection

Mr. Mitchel J. Laskey

President and CEO

Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc. Additional resources:

Committee Video

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White House Video Blog - Airport Security Q&A with Janet Napolitano

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