This is another group of good people who are looking out for our best interests. If you travel by airplane, ever, you whnt to support what they are doing. This post is a collection of tidbits from their latest alerts.
In the wake of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy, the Federal Aviation Agency formed an Aviation Advisory Security Committee, to “develop * * * recommendations for the improvement of methods, equipment, and procedures to improve civil aviation security.” When the TSA was formed after 9/11, responsibility for civil aviation security was transferred to that agency. The committee operated under the TSA until late 2006, when it was discontinued.
On July 7th, the TSA published notice in the Federal Register that they intended to reestablish the committee. The notice listed several “constituencies” that would be represented on the committee, among them “aviation consumer advocates.” We wrote to DHS on July 20th, seeking information on the aviation consumer advocate position. Quite honestly, who would be a better aviation consumer advocate than I? I was more than willing to once again serve in that role on a government committee, as I did on the DOT’s 2008 Tarmac Task Force.
After a fifteen-day delay, Dean Walter of the DHS responded “At this time we do not have any vacancy in the Aviation Consumer Advocate constituency group, where FlyersRights.org would best fit.” We then asked who was filling the position, and Mr. Walter replied “At this point we cannot release that information.”
So DHS created and filled a committee in less than a month, and we are excluded from that committee. Coupled with that is their unwillingness to meet with me, Ralph Nader, and EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg to discuss the American public’s concern with their security methods. Clearly, this committee was filled with members who will not offend anyone in DHS, and will not act as a true voice for airline passengers. (8-11-11)
From July 26, 2011:
After an extended period of inappropriate, knee-jerk response, dealing with real security threats by providing Security Theater, the TSA is slowly responding to public outcry. Widespread discontent with the TSA’s new measures was focused through the efforts of consumer advocacy groups such as FlyersRights.org, Ralph Nader’s Center for Study of Responsive Law, and Marc Rotenberg’s Electronic Privacy Information Center, and our efforts are beginning to bear fruits.
FlyersRights.org has long advocated security measures that are effective, safe, constitutional, and consistently applied. The only consistency in TSA’s application of its policies is their too-frequently random application. However, our other concerns are making headway.
Current procedures focus on the wrong things, and there are alternatives available that would improve their effectiveness. For example, dogs are much better at finding explosives than any machine. As we suggested, the TSA is now looking at ways to expand their use of those valuable resources.
Our safety concerns, and those of our allies, arise because members of the medical profession, many of them FlyersRights members, tell us that there is no established safe limit for radiation. Yes, we are subjected to it every day, but what are the safety implications of additional exposure? The TSA, after adamantly insisting that their systems are safe, admitted that many of their testing results indicated that the devices are not safe. They have committed to retest all their machines and to publish the results.
Those important issues aside, FlyersRights and our allies strongly object to our government’s trampling of our Constitution. Even here, where the Department of Homeland Security has proven the most tone deaf, we see progress. Recent developments include:
In response to concerns that the full body scanners’ graphic images amounted to an electronic strip search, the TSA is now field testing new software that presents a cartoon-like outline with suspicious objects highlighted.
- Current one-size-fits-all procedures clearly presume the guilt of millions of innocent travelers every day, and are, in particular, a slap in the face to those who have served their country in positions of trust. We have always advocated for procedures that look for the bombers, not the bombs. Now, after months of DHS Secretary Napolitano’s “get over it” response, the TSA will test new procedures designed to allow pre-screened travelers to quickly clear the TSA lines. Test airports will be Atlanta, Miami, Detroit, and Dallas.
- As a result of a lawsuit brought by our friends at EPIC, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the TSA violated federal law when it installed body scanners in airports for primary screening across the country without first soliciting public comment. FlyersRights joins EPIC and a long list of public advocacy organizations in demanding a standard rulemaking process, including a public comment period.
When we raised these issues months ago, public reaction was, well, muted. Air travelers have now experienced the new measures, and perceptions have changed. Watch for our new Air Travel Security Survey, to be launched soon.
Those of you even now reaching for your mouse to berate us for wishing death on all air travelers might take a moment to ask the right question. You should not be saying “Well, if this keeps us safe,” you should be asking “Does this keep us safe at all?” Of course we need security, but we demand measures that are effective, safe, constitutional, and consistently applied.
That was a particularly informative post, btw. I’m happy to send it to you if you’re interested.
From July 13, 2011:
Last week, the Department of Homeland Security sent the following warning to its international counterparts, saying “The Department of Homeland Security has identified a potential threat from terrorists who may be considering surgically implanting explosives or explosive components in humans to conduct terrorist attacks.” Last Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News was among the first to break the story, and noted that the TSA was planning on using more pat downs, more interaction with passengers, and “more use of the full body scanner.”
This new threat is exactly what FlyersRights has been warning of for over 18 months. It is a way to circumvent the TSA’s full body scanners, and demonstrates, once again, that chasing the last threat simply does not work. The problem, explained in detail in a London Daily Mail article, is that the Rapiscan full body scanners’ radiation only penetrates 0.1 (one-tenth) inch. It will never detect embedded explosives. Explosives in body cavities, hidden in rolls of fat, or tucked under breasts will be equally invisible.
By Thursday morning, TSA had backed off on their claim that the scanners would help with this problem, and the fact of their complete ineffectiveness against this threat was widely reported. Rapiscan has long obscured the 0.1-inch figure. It once appeared in a FAQ page on their web site, but they removed the page entirely. Read that page at this link.
This is a great group, and although I’ve highlighted the TSA-related stuff (my personal hobbyhorse to ride) they are also the ones responsible for gettign airlines to agree to return to the gate if they stay on the tarmac longer than 3 hours. They have an assistance forum for stranded travelewrs, and they are nonprofit. Check them out: flyersrights.org.