More Fun with the Airline Screening Playset: Body Imaging X-Ray Edition!

You may also like...

33 Responses

  1. clarinette says:

    A truth and hilarious piece of reality show! Thanks to make us laugh at this ridiculous security demagogy.

  2. aloria says:

    Hilarious! I think beer came out my nose.

  3. Orin Kerr says:

    Dan, I would love to know how you would approach these questions if you spent a year or two working at DHS. Do you think you would change your tune?

  4. @Orin Kerr – Would an acceptable answer be “It might make someone even more disgusted at Security Theater, and how it takes away resources from truly effective precautions”?

  5. Orin Kerr says:

    Seth,

    Any answer is acceptable if it is accurate, of course. My point is just that there seems to be a disconnect between the perspective of people who actually work on these issues on the inside and those who criticize the practices from the outside. It’s interesting to speculate as to why, I think.

  6. PunditusMaximus says:

    Because they’re afraid of losing their jobs? This isn’t difficult.

  7. Orin Kerr says:

    PunditusMaximus,

    I’m talking about the DHS officials in charge of promulgating the policies, not TSA employees who have to follow it.

    Perhaps one way of looking at it is to imagine you are in charge of creating the airport security rules. What rules do you create? Do you have any screening at all? If so, what, and why?

  8. @Orin Kerr – If one is just speculating, the simple model that anything related to “security” provides many incentives for more restrictions, but very few incentives for less restrictions – i.e., *career* risk-aversion – seems explanation enough.

    What sort of reply is there to “Do you think you would change your tune?” ? Who is going to say “Yes, my writing is based on ignorance, some experience would show me the error of my ways”?

  9. Orin Kerr says:

    Seth,

    I would hope that we all recognize the limits of our experience, and the quirkiness of our experience. But perhaps that is a foolish hope.

  10. peter says:

    here is the perspective of someone who evidently has spent a few years on the inside, and is not an enthusiast of the TSA approach:
    http://www.vancouversun.com/travel/Full+body+scanners+waste+money+Israeli+expert+says/2941610/story.html

  11. Wallace Forman says:

    A disconnect between policy makers and the public is something that we should expect and push against. Policy makers face incentives that cause them to fixate on the problems they are supposed to solve and unable to appreciate trade-offs. If the public screams for security one second and convenience the next, the TSA only hears the security screams.

    Put another way, political incumbents face all the political downside of a terrorist attack and 1/300,000,000 of the inconvenience of hassling every American who flies, all the time. Why wouldn’t they be hypersensitive to security threats?

  12. Peyton says:

    Ha ha.

    For my nest trick: I will pull down Barbies and Ken’s pants too and discover… there’s no there there.

    Cute way to play with your kids, and get an action-figure cartoon to post too.

    Orin: He’s just playing with toys and making a silly here. Why take it seriously, like because he noticed there’s no genitalia on these toys, and had a few hours to burn posing/photoing them, that he has the answers or was making a serious point?

    A few hours with the kids, a few laughs on the Nets. Don’t expect this will change anyone’s lives, just because its Dan Solove, and not Tommy Jones, doing the playing. It’s like thinking a Jon Stewart rally with his ambiguous sexuality jokes is going to change the country — it’s not.

    These guys are just funning, joking with you. Entertainment, timely, but just entertainment. WHy ask serious questions, like his time with the playset matter?

    I’m just wondering what his daughter was thinking all this time: Daddy, can’t we just post the people, and not photograph them? It’s the kid, his kid, that is losing out on his time here. Not anyone who comes to a silly blog post… “looking for answers.”

    That’s like reading Instapundit for the news. (But hey: You can maybe find similar toys on Amazon and toss some points to the Reynolds’ hom account. They might be hurting, with the law school bubble about to pop and all…)

  13. grichens says:

    Peyton, you’ve had a lot of time to think about this, haven’t you?

  14. John says:

    5. Orin Kerr – November 20, 2010 at 11:19 am

    Because the work for “The Government” and the relationship between the governing and the governed has morphed into the rulers and the ruled, the master and the peasant.

  15. chris says:

    Actually the more I think about it, the more it seems the purpose is to make it less likely a terrorist will attack America and instead pick a different (international) airport to strike from. Why risk getting caught with the shoes off, naked cameras, etc. when you can just fly from Paris where none of these things are checked?

    Surely a terrorist contemplating which airport to fly from would pick an easier target, but still high value for visibility (Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, etc).

    If this is the case, the goal seems not to stop a determined terrorist, but to ensure they strike anywhere but here. NIMBY-ism gone right? (and in a terrible way with the TSA…)

  16. Peyton says:

    Nope, just a fast typer.
    But thanks for askin!

  17. krs says:

    Prof. Kerr asks an odd question, as it asks whether Solove thinks he’d change his opinion based on something he doesn’t now know.

    Based on what I know now, I think TSA is contemptible and incompetent, and it and its employees deserve to be mocked, humiliated and otherwise disrespected at every opportunity.

    If I worked at TSA–again, based on what I know now–I expect that I’d hold the same opinion but with more specifics. Then again, maybe not. Those who have never worked at TSA have only secondhand information by which to judge TSA. Based on what knowledge I have, I enjoy these posts.

  18. John Murdoch says:

    Orin Kerr asks a splendid question: “What rules do you create? Do you have any screening at all? If so, what, and why?”

    1. Look for the terrorist, rather than the device.

    2. That means profiling typical passengers, and identifying people who do not match that profile.

    3. You model passengers based on existing knowledge (One-way ticket? Round-trip? Paid with plastic? Paid with cash? Checked baggage?)

    4. You expand profiling with a records check based on the “government-issued photo ID” they provided at check-in. Was it a driver’s license? Does that license have a consistent address with the charge card used for payment? How recently was that photo ID issued? Is the photo ID’s issuance history consistent with the person’s age? (You’re 34–you probably have 16-18 consecutive years of driver’s license history).

    5. You require passengers entering security with cell phones to turn the phones on. You pick up the cell phone numbers from the cell phone switch–does the passenger have a pre-paid (burner) cell phone? Does the cell phone match the charge card, or the driver’s license?

    6. You have a database of pen-register records of telephone calls. You have previously developed reasonably sophisticated models of signals (traffic) analysis that enable you to evaluate whether the cell phone a) shows extremely little usage; or b) shows frequent connections to “people of interest”; or c) shows the usual humdrum existence of 99.4% of the cell-phone-carrying world: practically all calls to the same 20 numbers, with 2 or 3 numbers accounting for 95% of all calls.

    7. You examine relationships: are there other people booked on flights (inbound or outbound) with whom you have ties (phone calls, address, credit report/job history)? Do you have any ties with people who might be at the airport (e.g. working there, or for an airport vendor)?

    8. You consider the traveler compared with his or her previous history. Is this a frequent traveler? Is this reservation consistent with previous reservations (paid by the same charge card, booked through the same travel agency, linked to a rental car)?

    9. You evaluate, in a manner not unlike how teen magazines determine the “hotness” of your daughter’s new boyfriend: Paying cash? Add four points. Not carrying a cell phone? Add two points. Carrying a burner phone? Add eight points. Furnished photo ID at check-in other than a driver’s license or passport? Add three points. No history of travel with that photo ID before? Add four points.

    If your model is done well (and I have used this kind of method to model professional liability lawsuits for a Very Large Insurance Company) there’s little gray area: 98% of your passengers are good ol’ folks on their way down the jetway to a handful of peanuts and Grandma’s house.

    The other 2% get re-directed to highly-trained, highly-compensated officials who ask questions. Why are you traveling? Why did you use your Ohio State student ID instead of a driver’s license? Why are you carrying a burner phone?

    And if you don’t get answers you like, you detain the passenger for a legally-permissible amount of time to dig deeper. Has the passenger made any purchases from chemical supply houses or pharmaceutical supply houses of late? Has the passenger recently purchased weapons or ammunition (I know, the 2nd amendment, RKBA, yadda, yadda–it’s one more piece in the puzzle)? You dig really hard.

    And then you evaluate some more: how many of those 2% got caught in the web because of something completely innocent? Should we revise the rules? Of people who were rightly and fairly snared in our web, how do they compare to others that we let pass? Should we tighten the filter?

    That’s a model-driven solution. Note that I’m depending upon existing databases that the federal government already has, or has access to. And that I’m modeling people based on the data trail they have created–not on whether they are short, brown, or speak with accents.

    And nobody has to get strip-searched. (Well, except the guy with a burner phone that paid cash for a one-way walk-up fare from Medellin to Newark and provided a library card from Tucson [with a woman's picture on it] as his photo ID.)

  19. User1001 says:

    @#19 – Perfect! Great scenario and yes, all infos they already have on us all!

  20. Evan Lee says:

    @John Murdoch: Best blog post I have ever seen, by far. Homeland Security, hire this man immediately.

    @Dan: Freakin’ hilarious.

  21. Pandabear says:

    @Orin, every law enforcement official who walks into chambers (about five million this month) thinks we should approve her application for a warrant or a pen register or a tracking device. It’s pretty much a given. That’s why we require that warrants be issued by neutral and detached magistrates, rather than law enforcement officials. Sure, the officials have the expertise, and most of them are good people, but they also have an institutional bias towards permitting intrusive methods of investigation.

    Deference to expertise isn’t sufficient to safeguard the constitutional privacy rights attached to homes or correspondence or phone calls. It shouldn’t be considered sufficient to safeguard the constitutional privacy rights associated with my junk, which by the way is also mentioned in the text of the Fourth Amendment. Security isn’t the only consideration here. For that matter, not-getting-killed isn’t the only security consideration, even if it’s the only one a CYA-oriented TSA is going to consider. I’m entitled to security of person, and groping and naked pictures are severe violations of that right.

  22. jr565 says:

    John,
    Knowing what you’re looking for why couldt I tailor my documents to match what you’re looking for in a non suspicious flyer? Is paying for cash suspicoius? then don’t pay in cash. Are you looking for cell phones? then carry a cell phone. etc etc. Maintain eye contact and don’t get flustered at questions. People can beat lie detectors and no how to bypass background checks, why wouldn’t they be able to bypass these screens youre running.
    And even more importantly, Israel does this sort of thing and while it is valuabel and there is no reason that you couldn’t adopt some of this stuff as as part of our screening processes the simple fact is Israel is one TINY country with one TINY airport with a tiny percentage of air traffic that our country will get in a year. So how much time are agents going to to need to spend to conduct the same searches on an exponentially larger base of fliers than Israel would ever have to deal with and to even get to them all, wouldnt’ they have to start cutting corners, or make people wait for days to fly? Similarly you say we shoulod direct 2% of the passengers who we ensare who may or may not be guilty and need to be further evaluated to a back room where we will conduct even more thorough investigations. 2% of passengers in Israel is a large number but 2% of US airline passengers is a LOT more people. How many WELL trained agents are you going to nee AT EACH AIRPORT to meet the demand of this 2% and how long will iterviewing those 2% take in comparison to to investigating 2% of Israel’s passengers.
    Im saying to you, that while it sounds nice, it is not a realistic scenario to expect that we would have the time manpower or money to possibly setup that type of security at all our airports.
    Furhter, of those 2% who are ensnared, how are they feeling if we are interrogating the shit out of them if htey are not in fact terrorists? Wouldn’t we potentially be ensnaring women and childrena and grandmoms and guys with prosthetic limbs, simply beucase their profile suggeseted they might be suspicoius. And would’t we have to, at least metaphrically “feel their junk” enough to let them be able to fly out of an airline? For those ensnared in our net who aren’t terrorists, wouldnt that be a simlar experience to the videos we’re seeing of guys with their prosthetic legs being forced to take it off. Wouldn’t you, in order to clear a suspicious person with a prosthetic leg need to check that leg to remove suspicion?
    So then you’re going to run into the exact same problems we’re running into now with people who refuse to be scanned and don’t want to be patted down. And in the meantime you’re letting 98% of people walk by who may be terrorists who were able to bypass your screening process. Would it catch a Tim Mcveigh or an Adam Gadaan, or a drug smuggler? There are other reasons we might not want certain people on planes that don’t even involve terrorism. And yet, if your screen is innacurate you’re letting that 98% go to concentrate on the 2% when your actual threat may be in the 20%.

  23. jr565 says:

    and I’m assuming that some of the background checking that you want us to do is in fact being done behind the scenes. But in the case of underwear bomber, even though there was a protocol in place to check his visa, somehow one agency didn’t give another agency the right info etc etc. so that by the time this guy got to the airline he was allowed to board, when ostensibly he should have been snared by our net. How are we ensuring that that never happens again? It sounds like every single time we have a terrorist get on board a plane some agency somewhere had some info that might have prevented it but didn’t act on it properly. We can blame incompetence, but maybe we should expect that as the norm? How many times have we heard of people who were charged too much by their bank or the IRS? Simple clerical errors are commonplace and yet we are relying on this background info to stop terorrists before they get to the airport. This background info would also potentially cuase problems with your profile. If the info is incomplete or wrong its goign to skew the results of your profile and might make a person who is innocent look guilty or make the person who is guilty look innocent.
    So lets assume that mistakes will happen and we wont always get the guy before he reaches the airport. What are you suggesting we do when the guy reaches the airport? And don’t give that crud about how we are going to detain 2% of passengers and run these extensive background checks. We only have 24 hours in a day and only so much to spend on security and can only find so many trained security guards to even do these interrogations.
    Im concerned about the security measures in place whe the guy who we missed is about to put his bag with the bomb in it on the plane? And despite all the catearwauling about the evil TSA agents who are out to molest kids and feel women up, I don’t hear an awful lot. To me, screening someone while they are in line is the best LAST defense before he gets on a plane, yet if we cant scan people and we cant pat them down and we can’t look at them if they’re kids or old people or cancer patients or pat any of them down if they’re suspicious(as if a terrorist couldn’t be a child or a woman or an older person) even of things that aren’t terrorist related (like maybe that woman is trying to get heroin onto the plane instead of a bomb) then you are opening up security to so many holes it would make swiss cheese look solid.

  24. Steve says:

    John,

    In re #5,6,7…

    These items would require a government agency to database all of the cell phone records in the country and then conduct analysis to develop detailed relationship networks. Leaving aside the armies of people and billions of dollars in software and computing power necessary to make this happen, a not insignificant issue, there is the larger problem of the government not having the authority to collect this type of information from its citizens.

  25. jr565 says:

    So then because libertarinas have no clue about security and are now incensed that the TSA is daring to inconvenience them by subimtting to pat downs, we have to hear all this crap from people talking about how we should profile only muslims. As if that isn’t completely unconstitutional. They can’t even submit to a simple pat down, yet to satisfy them we have to argue things that would require us to literally change the constitution or monitor every phone call of every citizen. Please libertarians, drive your cars and get the hell out of the airlines. A security system couldn’t be built that would satisfy you other than no security system whatsoever.

  26. John Murdoch says:

    jr565–

    You’ve asked a bunch of questions–rather than posting one colossal response, I’ll post several replies. Let’s start at the top, with the question of whether you could game the system:

    “Knowing what you’re looking for why couldt I tailor my documents to match what you’re looking for in a non suspicious flyer? Is paying for cash suspicoius? then don’t pay in cash. Are you looking for cell phones? then carry a cell phone. etc etc. Maintain eye contact and don’t get flustered at questions. People can beat lie detectors and no how to bypass background checks, why wouldn’t they be able to bypass these screens youre running.”

    In my post I included several factors that a model of passengers would include:

    * Specifics of the flight (when booked, how booked, how paid for, whether consistent with previous travel)

    * Specifics of the person’s identity (how established [photo ID, passport], employment history [from credit report])

    * Associations (based on cell phone links, but also credit card history and usage)

    The typical traveler will look…typical. Not identical–but an overwhelming majority will fall into a few patterns: the tourist, the business traveler, and so forth. Two types of passengers will be unusual: the traveler who has never flown before; and the traveler who is deviating from his or her normal pattern.

    Neither of these indicates anything criminal: everybody flies for the first time some time, after all. And you might be a budget-conscious tourist, booking low-fare tickets weeks in advance all of your life, but you’re buying a “walk-up” fare today because your mother is dying. Perfectly innocent.

    Identity: you have to show a government-issued photo ID to get on an airplane today. An overwhelming majority will show a driver’s license, passport, or military ID. Each of those documents has a “paper trail”–a history. For example, consider your driver’s license. It includes your birth date–if you’re 34, then there ought to be 16-18 years worth of driver’s license renewals floating around in government databases. If there isn’t–why?

    It’s entirely possible that you don’t have a driver’s license (I live in Pennsylvania, and do business with Amish harness makers who have never driven a car)–but that’s unusual. By itself, perfectly innocent.

    In the same way, do you have a passport? Where have you been? (We do not presently keep track of where people travel–when you enter the U.S. they only identify the country from which you have most recently come. That’s a loophole that should be closed). It’s entirely reasonable that you might have traveled to Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, or Sri Lanka. Perfectly innocent.

    Associations: with whom do you have a common bond? Your cell phone records show whom you have called–and who your friends have called. Again, the typical traveler will fall into a fairly simple pattern: lots of calls to a limited number of people; the vast majority to/from a handful of people.

    Are you carrying a “burner” phone? Have you never had a cell phone? Nothing wrong with it–perfectly innocent.

    But if you have a friend who has a friend who has been spending a lot of time on the phone with known terrorists in Yemen; that’s interesting. And if you also have a friend who is also traveling today, through that airport, even to a different city–why, that’s interesting too. And if both of you have a common friend who works for an airline catering company (and thus has security clearance into the gate area of the airport)–why that’s quite interesting indeed.

    Now–it’s entirely possible that you might know people who aren’t nice; you might easily know people who know people who are not nice at all. (My brother-in-law is a criminal defense attorney; I’m sure he has people on his cell phone with criminal records.) And we’ve all had the experience of bumping into a friend, unexpectedly, at the airport.

    A model-driven security approach examines a lot of factors, and identifies two groups: people who have factors that raise obvious red flags; and people who do not have any history at all.

    The feds (especially Customs) has been looking for the first group for years–they have a very clear profile of a “drug mule.” What I’m really proposing is paying a lot of attention to the second: people who do *not* have the history they should.

    A genuine paper trail accumulates over years–starting with your driver’s license, your job history, your history of financial transactions. It is vastly harder to fabricate than spy novels and television plots would have you believe.

    Similarly, creating a “legend” of cell phone usage is a daunting task. Think of how often you use your cell phone–a dozen times today? More? Think of how you’d fabricate a “legend” for a terror operative. You’d have to have a group of other phones for that person to call (to create a history)–but each of those phones would have to have a legitimate circle of callers as well. It would take large numbers of people, spread across a large geographical area (if your entire cell phone call history originates and terminates on the same cell switch, that’s a big red flag. Or you live on Martha’s Vineyard.)

    The person you’re interested in, then, is the person with no history: no credit card transactions; no cell phone records; no history of contact with the government (i.e. driver’s license)–or the person with an inadequate history.

    And not ever less-than-documented person is a terrorist–but you discover that when you interview them.

    That’s the person you’re describing–someone who is trying to fabricate a “legend” that will pass muster.

  27. John Murdoch says:

    Steve–

    “These items would require a government agency to database all of the cell phone records in the country and then conduct analysis to develop detailed relationship networks. Leaving aside the armies of people and billions of dollars in software and computing power necessary to make this happen, a not insignificant issue, there is the larger problem of the government not having the authority to collect this type of information from its citizens.”

    You don’t need a federal agency to store all that data–the cell phone companies already do it. (Every month I am buried in dozens of pages of detail of every text message my daughter sends). I’m not a lawyer (I’m a systems architect) but I believe that the government can use what are called “pen registers” without a warrant–they cannot listen to your calls, but they can review whom you have called, and how long those calls lasted. The phone companies already have the technical means to provide that data–and (I recall reading) government agencies already evaluate phone records to identify common associations that pose security threats.

    As I’ve written above, the person you’re looking for is the person with a) known connections to “persons of interest”, or b) little or no connections with anyone.

  28. jr565 says:

    we had Bush try to work with the phone companies to help deal with terorrists and tracking their calls and you privacy advocates declared such programs as an overeahc and the NYT leaked the story and lawyers sued all the telephone companies. Yet you want to do something that will not only check all phone records both foreign and domestic it will check all job history,all credit card records of millions of people who fly every day in real time before they get on a plane. Get real. And Im supposed to be outraged about not touching your junk when you feel you can give the US govt the power to look at every phone call and credit card receipt Ive made? Whos talking privacy violations here and who’s talking 4th amendment violations here, and govt intrusion into peoples lives. I’ll take the pat down thanks, and you can get your nose out of my records and stop treating me like a criminal and getting to know everything about me. You want to see what’s on my body at the time so I’m about to board so that you’re sure I’m not going to blow up a plane? Sure. So long as everyone else goes through it too, and it’s not too painful or time consuming. But that is too much for you, yet instead you’re going to look into literally every aspect of my life and then grill me about it for potentially hours? And at the end of that I still might get the pat down anyway?
    Screw that.
    not to mention, you’re going to have to to do this with every passenger, so expect to hire a ton of operators who will run millions of credit reports every day, and check and cross check phone numbers for every person flying looking for some tenuous connection. For EVERY AIRPORT IN THE COUNTRY.How many fly in a day? How much is this going to cost? To pay for this am I going to have to pay 10000 one way dollars to fly in the states? And all because you crybabies can’t do something that is so routine that it’s been done to countless travellers who never threw a fit about them being molested. I’ve had a patdown, it didn’t kill me. My mom had a pat down she didn’t die. I’d like to get on my flight now and not have to wait while you work with your little algorithms to see if I can fly. I just showed you by letting you look at my bags and person. What more do you need?
    You are in fact the one looking in peoples junk.

  29. jr565 says:

    The person you’re interested in, then, is the person with no history: no credit card transactions; no cell phone records; no history of contact with the government (i.e. driver’s license)–or the person with an inadequate history.

    Mohammad Attah and company dressed like westerners and went to strip clubs which they probalby paid for woth credit cards. And the first WTC bombers simply got forged documents to rent their car. The only reason they got caught was because someone was stupid enought to bring it back to Avis. But the point being, they have documentation. They’re not necessarily acting like loners.

  30. Auntiegrav says:

    Geez louise..the truth of the problem is that NOBODY is a terrorist until AFTER the fact. Even carrying a bunch of mk82s in a suitcase doesn’t make you a terrorist: setting them OFF makes you a terrorist…maybe…if it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Carrying improper things on an airplane isn’t terrorism: it’s just misanthropic, which isn’t a crime yet.
    In other words, you can’t predict what people will be until they do something. If they have done something, then someone should be looking for them, not so much for things which nobody can characterize enough to recognize. The underwear bummer was someone that nobody was looking for, even though they were told to. You can’t fix stupid if the system is designed for it.
    As for it being a privacy issue, well, SOCIETY is a privacy issue: you trade away some independence for the benefits of society. Flying is one of the benefits until it becomes too burdensome. I choose not to fly anymore unless it is absolutely necessary. Most of the flying is not needed, and very wasteful of resources better left in the ground.
    Stay home. Be all that you can be right where you are.

  31. jr565 says:

    Carrying improper things on an airplane isn’t terrorism: it’s just misanthropic, which isn’t a crime yet.
    In other words, you can’t predict what people will be until they do something. If they have done something, then someone should be looking for them, not so much for things which nobody can characterize enough to recognize.
    Well not exaxctly. Agreed we should be looking for terrorists, but if as you say they haven’t become a terorrist until they do something, then you couldn’t really look for them either could you? So then looking for the person who has yet to become a terrorist would be a silly as looking for things.
    But I disagree with the assertion that you can’t look for things. Terrorists, but also murderers and smugglers will often use weapons to make their jobs easier. THere’s no context if you find a brick of heroin in someone’s bag that could be anything other than a brick of heroin. And while you could carry MK82’s around your house, I would argue that an airline could naturally say you can’t carry them on THEIR plane. Just as a restaurant can say “no shoes no shirt no service” an airline can say you can’t get on a plane if you have x or y or z. The only context whereby someone could carry a gun on board that companys plane would be within the contexts assigned by that plane and no more. THey might allow marshalls or cops or soldiers but thats it. So if you come wandering into the security gate carrying a gun or a brick of heroin and you’re not on their list of people they will alllow on the plane with that item (and agian in the case of heroin, there would be no context) then you will be denied access if you have that item. And security will be on the lookout to prevent anyone, especially terrorists, from getting on their planes with any of those items. Even something as stupid as liquids. IF the TSA or head of security or airline is determining that liquids can be used as bombs and they want to prevent that thing from being brought on board, who cares if the customer thinks it’s stupid? Throw out the bottle or don’t fly. And it very well may be that security is genuinely worried that someone will bring on said liquids and it’s important enough that they will search people to make sure. Again, if you dont want to submit to the search, don’t fly. Because you, the cutomer don’t make the rules.