America hates pornoscanners

Two and a half years after the TSA rolled out the nation's pornoscanners, they finally got around to fulfilling their legal obligation to ask Americans how they felt about them. 97% don't want them. Perhaps that's why they didn't want to ask. There were 4,321 responses.


    1. Why in the world would TSA workers want or like them? You do understand that these kinds of policies are dreamt up and implemented by wealthy politicians and political appointees don’t you? When somebody tells you “Welcome to McDonald’s!” you think that it’s something that low level workers asked management to implement? 

      1. Between the political appointee and the TSA minion, there are several layers of TSA bureaucrats looking for an excuse to keep cashing their paycheques. They thrive over “projects” and “change management” these boondoggles inevitably generate.

        1. So basically high level employees, likely appointed by politicians or other political appointees who are appointed by The Obama Administration. Not the grunts in the security line. My point stands.

      2. ‘…they were only able to get…’ – I got that covered.

        Also, keep in mind ‘TSA employee’ doesn’t have to mean low level worker. Managers are employees too.

        Also, it was a joke :)

  1. Not to be a downer here, but that’s a convenience sample.  It’s not fair to say that 97% of all Americans don’t want the scanners.  97% of those who felt strongly enough to write in to the TSA don’t want the scanners.  With that said, I doubt that even a properly conducted poll would turn up a very high percentage of people in favor of the scanners (assuming that it was made clear to respondents what the scanners did and what the potential benefits / risks were vs. using standard metal detectors).

    1.  The process is, “We listen to people who file comments,” not “We treat comments as convenience samples and ignore or discount them.” Otherwise, why seek comments?

      1. Actually, the process is “we include in the public record comments from people who file comments”.

        While an agency has certain requirements to solicit comments, they aren’t required by law to abide by the majority opinion expressed in those comments. It’s not uncommon at all for a federal agency to essentially ignore the input from the public.

    2. Per a 2010 CBS news poll (see the end of Nate’s post) 81% of Americans support pornoscanners. Disappointing, but not unexpected.

      The only more recent poll I could find was did not address the scanners directly, but they appear to confirm that ~80% of respondents are fine with the screening measures currently being used.

      The only good news I have seen recently is that they are taking out the RAPISCAN scanners and replacing them with slightly less intrusive L-3 scanners. As a result, I noticed I am going through a lot more old-school metal detectors while they replace them.

  2. I’m not a big fan of the scanners either, but speaking as someone who spends a lot of time on analysis of comments on proposed rules, it’s important to note that regulatory comments aren’t votes, and the number of comments that support or oppose a particular rule aren’t relevant to policy-making decisions.  The purpose of regulatory comments is to bring new issues to light that can affect the agency’s analysis of the legal issues in play; values-driven comments aren’t a useful part of this particular process (the time for that is earlier, when Congress delegates authority to the agency).  In general, all of this is as it should be: many rulemakings with high volumes of comments are that way because they get swamped by astroturf-y form letters that aren’t substantive or especially germane, and waste everyone’s time without accomplishing anything.

    1. That earlier time you speak of is when the Congresscritters whose districts contain the factories that make the despised technology in question happen to get heavily lobbied. The opinions of the populace seem to have no bearing on the good critter’s decision.

      1.  Sure, but that’s a failing of Congress; it doesn’t change the agency’s obligations in how it responds to comments.  Specifically, agencies only have to address comments that are substantive, and don’t have to give more weight to a comment if it’s submitted multiple times by different people.

  3. Also, from the better late than never file…
    The AAPM (American Association of Physicists in Medicine) finally released their report on the dose received from the x-ray backscatter scanners:  well-designed/well-performed analysis.
    (While I never worried about the dose estimates from previous reports, the reports were never really performed well.)

    Radiation Protection Subcommittee Task Group #217   
    Radiation Dose from Airport Scanners: Report of AAPM Task Group 217
    Only a direct link to the PDF report:

    For a standard man of 178.6 cm (5’10”) tall and 73.2 kg (161.4 pounds), the effective dose from a single-pose, two-sided scan was determined to be 11.1 nSv (nSv = 10-9 Sv) and the skin dose to be 40.4 nGy (nGy = 10-9 Gy). This effective dose is equivalent to 1.8 minutes of background dose received by the average individual in the U.S. in 2006 and is approximately equivalent to 12 seconds of naturally occurring dose during an average flight.

      1. Sorry, was a cut-n-paste from an email list that seems to mangle anything longer than a dozen characters…

    1. The x-ray dose is moot in the US now, at least for air travel (*), as the TSA has switched out all of the backscatter machines with millimeter-wave ones.

      That said, that study doesn’t seem to address the IMHO reasonable concern that the doses involved may actually cause more harm due to the lower-power and thus more easily absorbed energies (i.e. as compared to a cosmic ray or other radiation source where most of the energetic particulars go right through).

      Also, while the study closes by suggesting that while there is a non-zero increase is risk at the population level, we should consider that risk relative to the overall exposure from the flight itself. Yet, for some reason they don’t mention that we also ought to consider that risk relative to the overall risk of injury or deaths due to terrorist activities occurring on airplanes.

      And completely outside the scope of the study is the question as to whether any of these machines are actually a reliable way to prevent terrorists from having access to weapons on an airplane. A number of reports and analyses strongly suggest they are not.

      (*) (which is not to say that they won’t just redeploy the machines in federal buildings around the country).

      1. That said, that study doesn’t seem to address the IMHO reasonable concern that the doses involved may actually cause more harm due to the lower-power and thus more easily absorbed energies (i.e. as compared to a cosmic ray or other radiation source where most of the energetic particulars go right through).

        That is included inherently…  That is what they measure and that is what they reported i.e. skin dose is 40 nGy, effective dose is 11 nSv — if it was exposure to something like a Co-60 source (high energy gammas), the skin dose would be about the same as the effective dose.

      2. You sound like a good person to ask:

        How are millimeter-waves safer?  I have medical issues that make it particularly important to avoid unncessary radiation whenever possible (yes, I’m aware flying involves radiation exposure) and there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground between the scaremongers and the trust-us crowd.

        1. The mm-waves are non-ionizing radiation.   Basically, not a heck of a lot different from cell phone emissions.  From what I recall, the energy densities that the mm-wave machines expose a person to are ~1/10 of recommended levels of exposure for the general public (I don’t recall the way they define the limits, but I think that it is in terms of so many watts per area over a time period (e.g X mW/m^2 averaged over 5 minutes))
          Essentially, the only effect on a person is a minuscule amount of heating — contrary to many opinions, there does not appear to be any conclusive evidence of other health effects.

          Disclaimer: I’m an ionizing radiation guy — know about the other stuff, but just peripherally.

  4. Yes but those 97% don’t make campaign contributions the way the manufacturer of the scanners does.  Checkmate.

  5. If 97% of Americans don’t like them, why aren’t 97% of Americans doing something about it? Refuse to fly until the airlines are forced to grow some balls and lobby Congress to outlaw this security theater.

    1. They’d rather blame the workers doing these McJob’s than take a hard look at themselves, the people who run these agencies, and the people they elect to office. Class warfare is incredibly useful to the money makers.

  6. come up with a better way to detect/prevent non-metallic threat items or STFU
    is it YOUR airplane — no? then STFU
    do you want airplane parts to fall in your back yard — no? then STFU

  7. Who cares? It’s mission accomplished – Your tax dollars over payed corrupt gov official’s friends to dev this nonsense under the guise of “freedom” 

    Can’t wait to see what’s next! Cha- CHING! 

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