Interesting op-ed by former DHS head Michael Chertoff on the privacy risks of Google Glass.
Now imagine that millions of Americans walk around each day wearing the equivalent of a drone on their head: a device capable of capturing video and audio recordings of everything that happens around them. And imagine that these devices upload the data to large-scale commercial enterprises that are able to collect the recordings from each and every American and integrate them together to form a minute-by-minute tracking of the activities of millions.
That is almost precisely the vision of the future that lies directly ahead of us. Not, of course, with wearable drones but with wearable Internet-connected equipment. This new technology — whether in the form of glasses or watches — may unobtrusively capture video data in real time, store it in the cloud and allow for it to be analyzed.
It’s not unusual for government officials — the very people we disagree with regarding civil liberties issues — to agree with us on consumer privacy issues. But don’t forget that this person advocated for full-body scanners at airports while on the payroll of a scanner company.
One of the points he makes, that the data collected from Google Glass will become part of Google’s vast sensory network, echoes something I’ve heard Marc Rotenberg at EPIC say: this whole thing would be a lot less scary if the glasses were sold by a company like Brookstone.
The ACLU comments on the essay.
Posted on May 6, 2013 at 1:17 PM •
This is big news:
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will remove airport body scanners that privacy advocates likened to strip searches after OSI Systems Inc. (OSIS) couldn’t write software to make passenger images less revealing.
This doesn’t mean the end of full-body scanning. There are two categories of these devices: backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave.
The government said Friday it is abandoning its deployment of so-called backscatter technology machines produced by Rapiscan because the company could not meet deadlines to switch to generic imaging with so-called Automated Target Recognition software, the TSA said. Instead, the TSA will continue to use and deploy more millimeter wave technology scanners produced by L-3 Communications, which has adopted the generic-outline standard.
Rapiscan had a contract to produce 500 machines for the TSA at a cost of about $180,000 each. The company could be fined and barred from participating in government contracts, or employees could face prison terms if it is found to have defrauded the government. In all, the 250 Rapiscan machines already deployed are to be phased out of airports nationwide and will be replaced with machines produced by L-3 Communications.
And there are still backscatter X-ray machines being deployed, but I don’t think there are very many of them.
TSA has contracted with L-3, Smiths Group Plc (SMIN) and American Science & Engineering Inc. (ASEI) for new body-image scanners, all of which must have privacy software. L-3 and Smiths used millimeter-wave technology. American Science uses backscatter.
This is a big win for privacy. But, more importantly, it’s a big win because the TSA is actually taking privacy seriously. Yes, Congress ordered them to do so. But they didn’t defy Congress; they did it. The machines will be gone by June.
Posted on January 21, 2013 at 6:38 AM •
A year ago, EPIC sued the TSA over full body scanners (I was one of the plaintiffs), demanding that they follow their own rules and ask for public comment. The court agreed, and ordered the TSA to do that. In response, the TSA has done nothing. Now, a year later, the court has again ordered the TSA to answer EPIC’s position.
This is an excellent time to add your name to the petition the TSA to do what they’re supposed to do, and what the court ordered them to do: take public comments on full body scanners. The petition has almost 17,000 signatures. If we get 25,000 by August 9th, the government will respond. I doubt they’ll capitulate, but it will be a press event that will put even more pressure on the TSA. So please sign the petition. (Here is my first post about it.)
Posted on August 2, 2012 at 2:19 PM •
This is important:
In July 2011, a federal appeals court ruled that the Transportation Security Administration had to conduct a notice-and-comment rulemaking on its policy of using “Advanced Imaging Technology” for primary screening at airports. TSA was supposed to publish the policy in the Federal Register, take comments from the public, and justify its policy based on public input. The court told TSA to do all this “promptly.” A year later, TSA has not even started that public process. Defying the court, the TSA has not satisfied public concerns about privacy, about costs and delays, security weaknesses, and the potential health effects of these machines. If the government is going to “body-scan” Americans at U.S. airports, President Obama should force the TSA to begin the public process the court ordered.
The petition needed 150 signatures to go “public” on Whitehouse.gov (currently at 296), and needs 25,000 to require a response from the administration. You have to register before you can sign, but it’s a painless procedure. Basically, they’re checking that you have a valid e-mail address.
Everyone should sign it.
Posted on July 11, 2012 at 12:39 PM •
According to a report from the DHS Office of Inspector General:
Federal investigators “identified vulnerabilities in the screening process” at domestic airports using so-called “full body scanners,” according to a classified internal Department of Homeland Security report.
EPIC obtained an unclassified version of the report in a FOIA response. Here’s the summary.
Posted on May 16, 2012 at 6:15 AM •
I like the quote at the end of this excerpt:
Aviation officials have questioned the need for such a strong permanent police presence at airports, suggesting they were there simply “to make the government look tough on terror”.
One senior executive said in his experience, the officers were expensive window-dressing.
“When you add the body scanners, the ritual humiliation of old ladies with knitting needles and the farcical air marshals, it all adds up to billions of dollars to prevent what? A politician being called soft on terror, that’s what,” he said.
Posted on March 19, 2012 at 6:38 AM •
The Internet is buzzing about this video, showing a blogger walking through two different types of full-body scanners with metal objects. Basically, by placing the object on your side, the black image is hidden against the scanner’s black background. This isn’t new, by the way. This vulnerability was discussed in a paper published last year by the Journal of Transportation Security. And here’s a German TV news segment from 2010 that shows someone sneaking explosives past a full-body scanner.
The TSA’s response is pretty uninformative. I’d include a quote, but it really doesn’t say anything. And the original blogger is now writing that the TSA is pressuring journalists not to cover the story.
These full-body scanners have been a disaster since they’ve been introduced. But, as I wrote in 2010, I don’t think the TSA will back down. It would be too embarrassing if they did.
Posted on March 12, 2012 at 4:30 PM •
Interesting paper: Paul J. Freitas (2012), “Passenger aviation security, risk management, and simple physics,” Journal of Transportation Security.
Abstract: Since the September 11, 2001 suicide hijacking attacks on the United States, preventing similar attacks from recurring has been perhaps the most important goal of aviation security. In addition to other measures, the US government has increased passenger screening requirements to unprecedented levels. This has raised a number of concerns regarding passenger safety from radiation risks associated with airport body scanners, psychological trauma associated with pat-down searches, and general cost/benefit analysis concerns regarding security measures. Screening changes, however, may not be the best way to address the safety and security issues exposed by the September 11 attacks. Here we use simple physics concepts (kinetic energy and chemical potential energy) to evaluate the relative risks from crash damage for various aircraft types. A worst-case jumbo jet crash can result in an energy release comparable to that of a small nuclear weapon, but other aircraft types are considerably less dangerous. Understanding these risks suggests that aircraft with lower fuel capacities, speeds, and weights pose substantially reduced risk over other aircraft types. Lower-risk aircraft may not warrant invasive screening as they pose less risk than other risks commonly accepted in American society, like tanker truck accidents. Allowing passengers to avoid invasive screening for lower-risk aircraft would introduce competition into passenger aviation that might lead to better overall improvements in security and general safety than passenger screening alone is capable of achieving.
The full paper is behind a paywall, but here is a preprint.
Posted on February 9, 2012 at 6:10 AM •
The European Union has banned X-ray full body scanners at airports. Millimeter wave scanners are allowed as long as they conform to privacy guidelines.
Under the new EU legislation the use of security scanners is only allowed in accordance with minimum conditions such as for example that: security scanners shall not store, retain, copy, print or retrieve images; any unauthorised access and use of the image is prohibited and shall be prevented; the human reviewer analysing the image shall be in a separate location and the image shall not be linked to the screened person and others. Passengers must be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place. In addition, passengers are given the right to opt out from a control with scanners and be subject to an alternative method of screening.
Posted on November 17, 2011 at 1:13 PM •
I’m not surprised:
The weekly Welt am Sonntag, quoting a police report, said 35 percent of the 730,000 passengers checked by the scanners set off the alarm more than once despite being innocent.
The report said the machines were confused by several layers of clothing, boots, zip fasteners and even pleats, while in 10 percent of cases the passenger’s posture set them off.
The police called for the scanners to be made less sensitive to movements and certain types of clothing and the software to be improved. They also said the US manufacturer L3 Communications should make them work faster.
In the wake of the 10-month trial which began on September 27 last year, German federal police see no interest in carrying out any more tests with the scanners until new more effective models become available, Welt am Sonntag said.
However, this surprised me:
The European parliament backed on July 6 the deployment of body scanners at airports, but on condition that travellers have the right to refuse to walk through the controversial machines.
I was told in Amsterdam that there was no option. I either had to walk through the machines, or not fly.
Here’s a story about full-body scanners that are overly sensitive to sweaty armpits.
Posted on August 5, 2011 at 6:22 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.