So the TSA may have plans to use the full body scan technology used at airport checkpoints in mobile scanning units that it can set up at public events and train stations, as well as using mobile x-ray vans to scan pedestrians on city streets. Yeah, you read that right. This is according to some newly uncovered documents published by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Wednesday. The documents were obtained from the Department of Homeland Security via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The documents show that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned to study a range of new anti-terrorism technologies, including “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest” to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology used for full body scans in airports.
The van project was allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens and would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, and use cameras on buildings and utility poles to monitor groups of pedestrians. Using the system, it would be possible to assess what people are carrying, and even track their eye movements. Researchers were also asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects a person has on his or her body from up to thirty feet away.
“This would allow them to take these technologies out of the airport and into other contexts like public streets, special events and ground transit,” says Ginger McCall, an attorney with EPIC. “It’s a clear violation of the fourth amendment that’s very invasive, not necessarily effective, and poses all the same radiation risks as the airport scans.”
After the initial article was published by Andy Greenberg on Forbes.com,, The TSA responded that the “TSA has not tested the advanced imaging technology that is currently used at airports in mass transit environments and does not have plans to do so.”
However, they have spent money on this project and have contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University, and Rapiscan Systems for this project. EPIC has filed a lawsuit against the DHS fighting the use of scanners in airports, and is arguing its case in a D.C. appellate court next week. It seems likely that there would be quite an outcry if the TSA or the DHS tried to scatter x-rays indiscriminately at pedestrians, but this is a good thing to keep an eye on.
Full TSA documents here.
[via Andy Greenberg]