The Transportation Security Administration has finally complied with a court order to re-evaluate its use of body scanners, requesting public comment on its Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) in the process. (Hat Tip to trims on Slashdot.)
This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) is being issued to comply with the decision rendered by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Columbia Circuit in Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on July 15, 2011, 653 F.3d 1 (D.C. Cir. 2011). The Court directed TSA to conduct notice and comment rulemaking on the use of advanced imaging technology (AIT) in the primary screening of passengers. As a result, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) proposes to amend its civil aviation regulations to clarify that screening and inspection of an individual conducted to control access to the sterile area of an airport or to an aircraft may include the use of AIT.
You can visit Regulations.gov to review and comment on the use of advanced imaging technology at airports. The reference docket ID is TSA-2013-004. At the time I wrote this post, it had already received about 690 comments.
The NPRM itself makes for some interesting reading, including how the TSA justifies its use of body scanners and also the costs it has incurred since 2008 (projected through 2015). For example, Table 3 shows the cost of passenger opt-outs has risen from $7 million in 2008 to an estimated $5.6 billion in 2015. As a percentage of TSA costs, this means an increase from 0.04% to 2.01% over eight years.
(Caveat: I’m not entirely sure how to read the table. I assume opt-outs are a separate cost not contained within TSA costs, but I used TSA costs as a benchmark to compare rates of growth because it seems the column for total costs is missing, as are a couple footnotes. If I calculate the total cost of all expenses each year on my own, the share of passenger opt-outs increase from 0.0067% to 0.79%. Regardless, these numbers suggest the cost of opt-outs is growing at a faster rate than other expenditures.)
I often arrive at the airport early enough that I opt for a pat down. It’s a bit stressful, but only because I worry about encountering one of the surly TSA employees who would rather pick a fight than do their jobs. I remain convinced that these imaging systems don’t actually improve safety and are about nothing more than enhancing “security theater” so politicians can claim to be doing something. If they want to be so sure, they can give me a full body massage. It’s a lot cheaper than going to Thailand.