June 24th is D-Day: last day to submit public comments about TSA

Monday, June 24, 2013, is the final day to submit your public comments about the TSA. Links all over this blog, including at the top left-hand corner of this and every other page. We’ve written about this repeatedly. Not going to do it yet again. Here’s Jim Harper of the Cato Institute to summarize:

Cato Comments on TSA Body Scanners

In 2007, the president and CEO of the RAND Corporation, James Thomson, wrote up his impressions of the management at the Department of Homeland Security. “DHS leaders … ‘manage by inbox,’ with the dominant mode of DHS behavior being crisis management,” he wrote. “DHS implements most of its programs with little or no evaluation of their performance.”

If you want proof, look no further than the nation’s airports. Across the United States, the Transportation Security Administration harries American travelers daily, giving them a Hobson’s choice between standing, arms raised, before a nude body scanner or undergoing a prison-style pat-down. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Nearly two years ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered TSA to do a notice-and-comment rulemaking on its nude body scanning policy. Few rules “impose [as] directly and significantly upon so many members of the public” as the use of body scanning machines, the court said. Its ruling required the agency to publish its policy, take comments from the public, and consider them in formalizing its rules.

The last day to comment on the proposed rules is Monday, June 24th. You can submit your comments until then.

In our comment, Cato senior fellow John Mueller, Mark G. Stewart from the University of Newcastle in Australia, and I take the TSA to task a number of ways. The TSA fails to account for privacy in its proposed policy, even though the lawsuit that required the rulemaking was based on its privacy consequences.

The policy proposal that TSA issued is hopelessly vague. In fact, the court decision requiring the TSA to put its policies on record is more informative about what the rights of travelers and responsibilities of the TSA are.

Instead of placing its risk management work in the docket, TSA claims that its “risk-reduction analysis” is classified. There is almost no basis for treating such work as secret. Indeed, Mueller and Stewart have done a risk assessment of nude body scanners, published it in an article and their book, and spoken about it at public conferences. Their analysis has shown that the nude body scanning policy does not provide cost-effective security. Quite simply, spending money on nude body scanning buys a tiny margin of security at a price that is too dear. If you add non-monetary costs such as privacy and liberty, as well as opportunity costs such as time wasted due to body scanning, the cost-ineffectiveness of body scanners becomes all the more clear.

Travelers wary of TSA mistreatment choose driving over flying for many short or medium-length journeys. Given the far greater danger of driving, this means more injuries and as many as 500 more Americans killed per year on the roads. Outside of war zones, TSA policies visit more death on Americans than Islamist extremist terrorism has worldwide since 9/11.

The National Research Council found in 2010 that the risk models the Department of Homeland Security uses for natural hazards are “near state of the art” and “are based on extensive data, have been validated empirically, and appear well suited to near-term decision needs.” This is not the case with airline security. In fact, the TSA will accept risks of death that are higher than terrorism in order to maintain nude body scanning policies. The original body scanners, which applied x-ray technology, posed a fatal cancer risk per scan of about one in 60 million. Asked about this on the PBS NewsHour, TSA head John Pistole said this risk was “well, well within all the safety standards that have been set.” The chance of an individual airline passenger being killed by terrorism is much lower: one in 90 million.

TSA’s nude body scanning policies probably cause more deaths than they prevent. For this reason, we recommend in our comment that the TSA suspend the current policies, commence a new rulemaking, and implement a rational policy resulting from an examination of all issues on the public record. After comments close, TSA will issue a final regulation on a schedule it determines, after which the regulation can be challenged in court, and very likely it will.

If you don’t exercise your rights and speak up when they’re violated, don’t be surprised when they’re taken away. As of this writing, only 4,000 people have submitted comments about the TSA to the public docket. That’s out of a country of 300 million (yes, I know not everyone flies). What does that tell you about whether people give a toss about their rights?

And yes, flying is a right.

  • Time has run out and wait something newer, possibly better.

  • Take a look at this page for Footnotes indicating “Comments Not Accepted”:

    http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=TSA-2013-0004

    They include PDFs of attached documents. No, I don’t know why they’re not accepted.

    • Susan Richart

      Well, I lost my original comment. I think Lisa that these are “simply” clarifications of incomplete footnotes in the original document.

      For instance, Footnote 7 refers to comments Pistole made before some group, and this revised footnote is the documentation of those comments.

      “Since January 2010, this technology has helped TSA officers detect hundreds of prohibited, dangerous, or illegal items concealed on passengers.” Even the TSA Blog gives the lie to this statement and now, for me, it has become the basis for yet another comment.

      I do finally see 4887 comments, Lisa.

  • As of this writing, Monday, June 24, 2013, at 8:20 AM (Eastern), the Public Docket is showing 4,887 comments received, with 4,040 posted.

    • Susan Richart

      I’m seeing 4661.

      • I cleared my cache, restarted my computer, and went back to the page. I see 4,887 and 4,040.

    • Susan Richart

      That’s the same number as yesterday morning, Lisa, and I know 3-4 others people, in addition to myself, who sent in comments last night.

  • Susan Richart

    Here’s my last comment:

    The TSA loves to cite polls which show that the majority of travelers are in favor of the use of Nude Body Scanners. There’s a bit of an issue with those polls, however.

    The CBS poll of 1,137 individuals was from 11/15/10 – before NBS was fully instituted.

    The Gallup poll of 542 (yep, that’s right all of 542) individuals was taken on 1/11/2010.

    The Wall Street Journal poll, from December of 2009, had 1,032 respondents.

    All polls reference by the TSA were done before NBS became just about mandatory. Travelers had not experienced the delays caused by NBS nor had they experienced the gropes on false positive alarms, which happen frequently enough so as to make scans just about useless.

    As of this morning, there were 4,887 comments submitted, 4004 posted. Of those posted, >97% are AGAINST the use of Nude Body Scanners.

    How are you going to address that “poll”, TSA?

    BTW, while 4,887 comments received were showing this morning, now the number of comments is down to 4,603, a decrease of 284 comments. What’s up with that? Is someone there cooking the books?

    ~~

    Maybe it wasn’t submitted. I got an error message:

    “There was an issue submitting your comment. Please try to submit again.

    If still unsuccessful, please contact the Help Desk for assistance with submitting your comment.”

    One would hope the site is overwhelmed with comments. I will try to submit again later this evening.

  • Susan Richart

    Number of comments received is now being shown to be 4,603, apparently DOWN from 4887 this morning.

    WHAT IS GOING ON?

  • anc1entmar1ner

    Current comment stats:

    4887 received, 4004 posted.

    Anti-scanner comments: 3673 (91.71%)
    Pro-scanner comments: 304 (7.59%)
    Neutral or unable to determine: 27 (0.69%)

    Please comment now if you haven’t already.

  • As I wrote on June 9th:

    . . . I advised this woman to do what we’ve been advising all our readers to do for months now — submit her comment to the government during this public comment period that goes on until June 24th. You can do this by clicking the link in the upper-left-hand corner of every TSA News Blog page or just by clicking here. You can see what kinds of things your fellow citizens have already written here.

    http://tsanewsblog.com/10973/news/another-day-another-abusive-tsa-experience/

  • Annapolis2

    Here’s the outline of my comments:

    TSA’s body scanners are easily circumvented

    TSA’s body scanners are less effective at finding weapons
    than walk-through metal detectors

    TSA’s body scanners have well-publicized exploits and
    vulnerabilities

    TSA’s body scanners are humiliating and offensive

    TSA’s body scanners reveal innocent but embarrassing
    information

    TSA’s body scanners discriminate against the disabled,
    people with medical conditions, and others

    TSA’s body scanners increase the rate of patdowns, many of
    which constitute sexual assaults

    TSA’s body scanners interfere dangerously with medical
    devices

    TSA’s body scanners are not cost-effective

    TSA’s body scanner rule is not sufficiently detailed to
    inform the public how scanners will be used

    TSA’s body scanners create security vulnerabilities because
    they are slower than alternatives

    TSA’s body scanners and patdowns create adversarial tension
    between screeners and passengers

    TSA’s body scanners exposed passengers to carcinogenic
    ionizing radiation: there is no safe dose

  • Bettina

    Hmmm… 5000 comments as per Sunny Goth below. It really shows that American’s actually deserve being harassed like that, if they cannot be bothered to fight for their rights.

    As for me, I do no longer fly to the US because of the TSA. There are so many other beautiful countries to vacation in, why should I subject myself to someone trampling on my rights.

    • Susan Richart

      Bettina, in a bit of a defense of those who have not responded, I imagine that the majority of people who do still fly (and remember they are infrequent flyers) don’t have a clue that the comment period is taking place. Many of those same travelers don’t like the NBS but surrender to it just to get to their flight.

      I’d mentioned the same thing to another person and opined that the TSA should have been required to post signs at the scanners regarding the comment period.

      • Susan, exactly. But considering that the TSA removed the information from its own blog (as you & many of our readers will recall — the case of the disappearing TSA Blog post), they sure weren’t going to post signs at the checkpoints.

        All along, since the Public Comment Period opened in March, the TSA has been hoping that most people won’t know about (mission accomplished — thanks, mainstream media) and that everyone else will just ignore it.

        • Susan Richart

          A thought just occurred to me: The TSA will take as gospel a poll of 1500 people, 50% of whom might “support” its actions, but when 97% of close to 5,000 people, or 3x as many as are polled, are against their actions, they will in all likelihood, ignore it.

    • Daisiemae

      That sure sounds like blaming the victim to me.

      Comments like ” she shouldn’t have been dressed like that” or “she shouldn’t have been in that particular place” or “she shouldn’t have been drinking” help to justify predators and further demoralize their victims.

      Saying that “Americans actually deserve being harassed like that” is right up there with blaming sexual assault victims. It justifies and empowers the abusing predators and demoralizes the victims.

      And just so you know, the vast majority of Americans don’t even know about this public comment period. TSA has carefully and meticulously kept that information hidden to protect their ability to continue to abuse Americans freely with impunity.

      But hey! Blaming victims for not being able to stop powerful predators in their tracks is so emotionally fulfilling, isn’t it? And so much easier than calling powerful predators to task for their crimes.

  • TestJeff Pierce

    A good link to find the comment form is also from tsacomment.com .

    Freedom To Travel USA and We Won’t Fly (the ORIGINAL protesters) put this page together.

    Please comment if you haven’t already. Enough said.

  • Sunny Goth

    We’re almost up to 5,000 comments now, but that is a number that is
    still too low – especially since SO many people complain about the TSA’s policies.

    What you can do NOW:

    Talk to every single person you know and make sure they know that the rulemaking period ends on Monday. If they balk, ask them why they don’t want to send in a comment. What I’ve found is that people are concerned about putting their real name on the comments. Make sure they know they can comment anonymously. Some don’t know what to say. Tell them to write about their bad experiences. Lastly, people worry about length. Let them know that a short paragraph will do.

    Make a blog post about the comment period and post it. Better yet, tweet the link to the world. Put it on facebook and make sure your network shares widely.

    Know people on facebook or twitter with bunches of friends or followers? Ask them if they will send out a message or a tweet about the comment period.

    Now’s the time.

  • Susan Richart

    Mr. Harper answered a question of mine with this statement: “After comments close, TSA will issue a final regulation on a schedule it determines, after which the regulation can be challenged in court, and very likely it will.”

    We all know that the TSA will ignore the overwhelmingly negative comments that have been posted. I’m pleased to know that the fight will not end.

    However, I am also concerned that the TSA will not “issue a final regulation” but will just continue using NBS and full-body gropes as its principle method of screening. If they just ignore the final regulation, they could continue using this vile screening method and not have to justify in court.

    • Court or no court, Congressional mandate or no Congressional mandate, talk or no talk, they will continue until people rise up and say, “Enough.” And that ain’t gonna happen in my lifetime.

      • Sunny Goth

        As Susan said…

        “After comments close, TSA will issue a final regulation on a schedule it determines, after which the regulation can be challenged in court, and very likely it will.”

        I believe this will happen.

        Also, about the low comment numbers…

        The regulations.gov site is incredibly buggy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone there only to find out the site is down, or that the commenting button doesn’t work. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I
        almost believe that they don’t want to hear from us.

        If you find that to be true as well, remember you have till the end of the day today to have it postmarked. 🙂