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Engineer Files Law Suit Against NY Street Body Scanners

Machines violate Fourth Amendment, and can “unzip” DNA according to studies

Steve Watson
Feb 1, 2013

An engineer who exposed fundamental flaws in the TSA’s body scanners and eventually sued the agency, has now filed suit against the City of New York for proposals to use the scanners on the streets.

Last month, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told CBS New York that his department is looking to deploy Terahertz Imaging Detection scanners on the street in the war on illegal guns.

The technology measures energy radiating from the body up to 16 feet away and can detect anything blocking it.

Kelly noted that the scanners, currently being would be used in reasonably suspicious circumstances only, and were intended to cut down on the number of stop-and-frisks on the street, which many consider to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

The Commissioner suggested that once fully developed, the devices would be mounted in squad cars, noting that making the technology portable was a top priority.

Noting that the deployment of such technology onto the streets would raise significant privacy issues, the police Commissioner said “We have involved our attorneys as we go forward with this issue.”

Jonathan Corbett, an engineer and software designer, who runs the blog TSA Out Of Our Pants, announced this week that he has filed suit against New York City for “its testing and planned (or current?) deployment of terahertz imaging devices to be used on the general public from NYPD vans.”

Describing the devices as a virtual stop-and-frisk, Corbett notes that his civil complaint, comes attached with a motion for a preliminary injunction that would “prohibit use of the device on random people on their way to school, work, the theater, or the bar.”

“It is unfortunate that it seems that government at all levels is always in need of a fresh reminder that the citizens for whom it exists demand privacy, and that each technological advance is not a new tool to violate our privacy. However, as often as proves to be necessary, we will give them that reminder.” Corbett writes.

Corbett became the first person to sue the TSA relating to it’s body scanners after the federal agency deployed them as a primary screening method in 2010.

A video Corbett produced showing him walking through a scanner with a concealed metal object went viral on the internet last year. The TSA failed to even address the fact that Corbett had proven the body scanners could be easily defeated, and then it threatened journalists not to cover the story.

Corbetts case was provided increased gravitas when a recent Homeland Security report noted that federal investigators have identified vulnerabilities in the screening process involving the scanners.

Members of Congress then invited him to present his findings in a hearing last May.

However, in October, the Supreme Court refused to reopen Corbett’s case against the TSA, after The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous dismissal by federal courts in Florida.

Health risks

It is important to note that the scanners currently being developed for use in New York are not the same as the TSA’s backscatter scanners, which emit radiation, and have been cited as potential health threats.

However, it has been noted that the proposed technology in these street scanners would subject citizens to another documented health risk ” the destruction of DNA.

Studies reveal that THz waves unzip double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication, according to MITs Technology Review.

The scanners, which are much like the TSA’s airport millimeter wave scanners, can create “bubbles in the double strand that could significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication, according to the Center for Nonlinear Studies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

For more information, also see this paper posted at the Cornell University Library.

The NYPD argues that the technology will only be used in exceptional circumstances, however, it is being fine-tuned with the help of the Department of Defense counter-terrorism unit, indicating that the intention is to scan people at rail stations or heavily populated places such as sporting events.

Indeed, multiple sets of documents released under the Freedom Of Information Act have proven that the Department of Homeland Security has been planning for some time to use body scanners beyond airports.

The most recent, obtained by Jon Corbett, revealed that in the year prior to rolling out body scanners in airports, the TSA was drawing up long term plans to deploy the machines at ferry terminals, railway, and mass transit stations as well as unspecified other locations .

The DHS has claimed that it dropped plans for mobile body scanners a long time ago. However, a separate set of documents recently obtained by The Electronic Privacy Information Center revealed that the DHS continued to pursue the plans.

The DHS was still operating the program in March 2011, just two days prior to claiming it had dropped the projects in a very early phase after testing showed flaws .

Previous EPIC FOIA work also produced records showing that the DHS is actively moving to install scanners in all manner of public places,

The technologies include intelligent video, backscatter x-ray, Millimeter Wave Radar, and Terahertz Wave, and could be deployed at subway platforms, sidewalks, sports arenas, and shopping malls.

EPIC filed a specific lawsuit against the DHS for attempting to keep the program secret.

In February 2011, EPIC discovered (PDF) that the DHS had paid contractors millions of dollars on mobile body scanner technology that could be used at railways, stadiums, and elsewhere on crowds of moving people.

According to the documents, the TSA plans to expand the use of these systems to peer under clothes and inside bags away from airports.

The documents included a Surface Transportation Security Priority Assessment [PDF] which revealed details of conducting risk assessments and possible implementation of body scanners in Mass transit, commuter and long-distance passenger rail, freight rail, commercial vehicles (including intercity buses), and pipelines, and related infrastructure (including roads and highways), that are within the territory of the United States.

The DHS maintained that it had discontinued the program, but refused to provide the proof, invoking several FOIA exemption clauses, ironically including one that cited invasion of personal privacy .

EPIC also noted that the DHS has actively deployed mobile body scanner technology in vans that are able to scan other vehicles while driving down public roadways.

These vans, known as Z Backscatter Vans, are capable of seeing through vehicles and clothing and routinely store the images that they generate. EPICs lawsuit notes.

As we previously reported, while the focus remained on the TSAs use of naked body scanners at airports, the feds had already purchased hundreds of x-ray scanners mounted in vans that were being used to randomly scan vehicles, passengers and homes in complete violation of the Fourth amendment and with wanton disregard for any health consequences.

WSBTV reported on once instance of the mobile scanners being used to check trucks for explosive devices at an internal checkpoint set up by Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, and the TSA. Officials admitted there was no specific threat that justified the checkpoint, and although it was labeled a counter-terror operation, the scans were also being conducted in the name of safety .

The TSA has wholly failed to inform the American people before rolling out such technology. Indeed, EPIC continues to fight another ongoing lawsuit against the agency, which has already found that the TSA was in violation of federal law when it deployed scanners to airports in 2009 without holding public notifiction hearings. Since that time the TSA has completely ignored a court order to set the public comment process into motion.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham, and a Bachelor Of Arts Degree in Literature and Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.

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