the daily dub

November 16th, 2010

Senator Letters: The TSA

Posted by rdub in Life

EDIT: A copy of my letter is available here. TSALetter.txt

I recently decided to take a stand on the TSA’s increased security over-stepping being deployed in our airports. ¬†The voracity with which the Xray backscatter machines have been deployed far outpaces our medical, safety, and scientific understanding of these machines, and the associated exposures and risks.

Also, I’m upset about the lack of accountability inherent in DHS and the TSA in particular. I’d like to see a more “Sheriff-like” system, where these people are democratically elected, and held personally accountable for their policies and the behaviors of their deputies.

If you have feelings on the issues around the TSA’s screenings, you are more than welcome to crib notes, copy, plagiarize, or echo the letter reprinted below (rights to plagiarize begin and end with the letter though ūüėČ ).

Dear Senator,

I’m writing you to voice my opinion on the TSA’s security screening policies. I’m a voting, tax-paying, full-time employed citizen from California with a unique background in both electrical engineering and medicine.

The TSA has gone farther than is necessary for ensuring the safety of the American populace. The security screening procedures, while I agree are necessary, in their current form are violations of our 4th Amendment rights to personal privacy. Furthermore, the voracity with which the recent Xray back-scatter machines have been deployed outpaces our clear understanding of both the associated health risks, and the purported benefit these scanners are thought to bring. Lastly, I’d like to urge you to bring a democratic process to the TSA specifically, and the Department of Homeland Security in general.

In the U.S., citizens enjoy a right to privacy which is not to be violated without good cause. I understand the need for general security screening of all general passenger on airlines.  I believe metal detectors, for example, have brought a level of safety to the cabin of the plane that had been previously unseen.  Gone are the days of reading about plane hijackings in the news (compare recent data to data from the 1980s, for example).  This is a good example of a proven measure taken to secure our airlines.  This measure also did not amount to a choice between either a) being sexual assaulted, or b) relinquishing rights to nude photos taken of our bodies to unelected TSA employees. U.S. citizens should not be subjected to such wide-reaching measures without either conclusive (I underscore the importance of this word) evidence that such measures actually help.  That conclusive evidence is severely lacking in the case of the Xray backscatter machines.

Further, the recent increase in the level of “pat down” (I hesitate calling it that anymore), is sickening, especially in how is it being applied to the elderly and children. ¬†In any other setting, including police arrests, such treatment would be ground for a successful sexual assault case. ¬†For example, the TSA’s “enhanced pat down” procedures go beyond what the U.S. Army is allowed to do, even in a war zone. ¬†This is absurd.

Leaning on my background in emergency medicine, I know that patients in medicine now have their rights to privacy codified in the The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This act guarantees that facilities taking medical data for any purpose must have measures already in place to guarantee the security and privacy of said data. ¬†A nude, or even Xray body image is equivalent to medical information, yet there is no HIPAA protection on the TSA backscatter machines. ¬†Where is the legal protection from instances such as the Florida court house, which was recently found to have 35,000 personal, nude images (tantamount to personal medical data) stored[1]. You’ll notice I didn’t use the phrase “stored improperly” because I feel that storing data used for security screening purposes is ‚Äď in and of itself ‚Äď entirely improper. There is no reason that data needs to be stored for future reference. ¬†Where are the safeguards to ensure that no data storage is possible on these backscatter machines? ¬†And how about agents operating the machines using their cell-phone cameras and saving images for personal use? That violates my rights in more ways than I can list here, and I’d like to see it stopped, and severe consequences in place for any person or agency that is caught doing this.

Continuing on my medical tangent, there have been cries from the scientific and medical communities that the knowledge behind the drive to deploy these backscatter machines is severely limited, and the consequences could be potentially dangerous [2]. In this letter, prominent physicians and scientists point out that the amount of Xray radiation delivered, while low, is also concentrated in the first few layers of skin.  In addition to the concentration, the energy from the impact of said Xrays on molecules in our skin is likely breaking chemical bonds (ionizing) these molecules.  You should note that ionizing radiation is known to cause cancer, including breast cancer. Because the radiation delivered is concentrated in the skin layers, comparing it to a chest Xray or the radiation dose associated with international flight (which passes over the entire volume/mass of the body) is highly misleading.  According to the article cited in [2], the amount of discrepancy in this comparison is one or two orders of magnitude!  The dose delivered to the skin should be considered high, and potentially dangerous.

Further, the large population of older travelers (>65 years of age) are more susceptible to ionizing radiation, and therefore at a much higher inherent risk for developing cancers.  Additionally, women, especially breast cancer survivors, are also more susceptible to radiation-provoking breast cancer. Additionally, we have no data on whether or not these scanners are capable of causing birth defects during pregnancies, causing testicular cancer, or interfering with the cornea of the eye.

I’d like to finish on another topic dear to me: democracy. ¬†America was founded on democratic principals, where the citizens of this country get to elect and decide upon everything from what becomes law, to who enforces those laws. ¬†In the area of the TSA, and the DHS by extension, there has been a lapse of this democratic due process. Drawing a parallel, the Sheriff of each county is elected by the people living in that county. ¬†He is both in charge of enforcing the laws, and directly accountable for the policies created to guide the behavior of each deputy under his charge. ¬†I’d propose a similar system be implemented around the TSA specifically, and the DHS in general. The head of each should be both a) democratically elected, and b) held directly accountable by due political and democratic process.

Thank you so much for your careful consideration of my thoughts above. ¬†I know your time is very busy and valuable, and I would welcome and appreciate a thoughtful response from you or your staff should you feel moved to do so. ¬†I hope you’ll take these points above into account during tomorrow’s oversight committee on the TSA.

Sincerely,

Ryan Du Bois

[1] <http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-04/us/marshals.body.images_1_images-orlando-courthouse-privacy-rights-group?_s=PM:US>

[2] <http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf>

If you’d like to send any thoughts (they don’t have to be the above) to your representatives in congress, these are the correct people: Senators on TSA Oversight Commitee

Dear Senator,
I’m writing you to voice my opinion on the TSA’s security screening policies. I’m a voting, tax-paying, full-time employed citizen from California with a unique background in both electrical engineering and medicine.
The TSA has gone farther than is necessary for ensuring the safety of the American populace. The security screening procedures, while I agree are necessary, in their current form are violations of our 4th Amendment rights to personal privacy. Furthermore, the voracity with which the recent Xray back-scatter machines have been deployed outpaces our clear understanding of both the associated health risks, and the purported benefit these scanners are thought to bring. Lastly, I’d like to urge you to bring a democratic process to the TSA specifically, and the Department of Homeland Security in general.
In the U.S., citizens enjoy a right to privacy which is not to be violated without good cause. I understand the need for general security screening of all general passenger on airlines.  I believe metal detectors, for example, have brought a level of safety to the cabin of the plane that had been previously unseen.  Gone are the days of reading about plane hijackings in the news (compare recent data to data from the 1980s, for example).  This is a good example of a proven measure taken to secure our airlines.  This measure also did not amount to a choice between either a) being sexual assaulted, or b) relinquishing rights to nude photos taken of our bodies to unelected TSA employees. U.S. citizens should not be subjected to such wide-reaching measures without either conclusive (I underscore the importance of this word) evidence that such measures actually help.  That conclusive evidence is severely lacking in the case of the Xray backscatter machines.
Further, the recent increase in the level of “pat down” (I hesitate calling it that anymore), is sickening, especially in how is it being applied to the elderly and children. ¬†In any other setting, including police arrests, such treatment would be ground for a successful sexual assault case. ¬†For example, the TSA’s “enhanced pat down” procedures go beyond what the U.S. Army is allowed to do, even in a war zone. ¬†This is absurd.
Leaning on my background in emergency medicine, I know that patients in medicine now have their rights to privacy codified in the The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This act guarantees that facilities taking medical data for any purpose must have measures already in place to guarantee the security and privacy of said data. ¬†A nude, or even Xray body image is equivalent to medical information, yet there is no HIPAA protection on the TSA backscatter machines. ¬†Where is the legal protection from instances such as the Florida court house, which was recently found to have 35,000 personal, nude images (tantamount to personal medical data) stored[1]. You’ll notice I didn’t use the phrase “stored improperly” because I feel that storing data used for security screening purposes is ‚Äď in and of itself ‚Äď entirely improper. There is no reason that data needs to be stored for future reference. ¬†Where are the safeguards to ensure that no data storage is possible on these backscatter machines? ¬†And how about agents operating the machines using their cell-phone cameras and saving images for personal use? That violates my rights in more ways than I can list here, and I’d like to see it stopped, and severe consequences in place for any person or agency that is caught doing this.
Continuing on my medical tangent, there have been cries from the scientific and medical communities that the knowledge behind the drive to deploy these backscatter machines is severely limited, and the consequences could be potentially dangerous [2]. In this letter, prominent physicians and scientists point out that the amount of Xray radiation delivered, while low, is also concentrated in the first few layers of skin.  In addition to the concentration, the energy from the impact of said Xrays on molecules in our skin is likely breaking chemical bonds (ionizing) these molecules.  You should note that ionizing radiation is known to cause cancer, including breast cancer. Because the radiation delivered is concentrated in the skin layers, comparing it to a chest Xray or the radiation dose associated with international flight (which passes over the entire volume/mass of the body) is highly misleading.  According to the article cited in [2], the amount of discrepancy in this comparison is one or two orders of magnitude!  The dose delivered to the skin should be considered high, and potentially dangerous.
Further, the large population of older travelers (>65 years of age) are more susceptible to ionizing radiation, and therefore at a much higher inherent risk for developing cancers.  Additionally, women, especially breast cancer survivors, are also more susceptible to radiation-provoking breast cancer. Additionally, we have no data on whether or not these scanners are capable of causing birth defects during pregnancies, causing testicular cancer, or interfering with the cornea of the eye.
I’d like to finish on another topic dear to me: democracy. ¬†America was founded on democratic principals, where the citizens of this country get to elect and decide upon everything from what becomes law, to who enforces those laws. ¬†In the area of the TSA, and the DHS by extension, there has been a lapse of this democratic due process. Drawing a parallel, the Sheriff of each county is elected by the people living in that county. ¬†He is both in charge of enforcing the laws, and directly accountable for the policies created to guide the behavior of each deputy under his charge. ¬†I’d propose a similar system be implemented around the TSA specifically, and the DHS in general. The head of each should be both a) democratically elected, and b) held directly accountable by due political and democratic process.
Thank you so much for your careful consideration of my thoughts above. ¬†I know your time is very busy and valuable, and I would welcome and appreciate a thoughtful response from you or your staff should you feel moved to do so. ¬†I hope you’ll take these points above into account during tomorrow’s oversight committee on the TSA.
Sincerely,
Ryan Du Bois
94118
[1] <http://articles.cnn.com/2010-08-04/us/marshals.body.images_1_images-orlando-courthouse-privacy-rights-group?_s=PM:US>
[2] <http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf>
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