Judge Says No To FOIA Request For TSA Body Scan Images

from the suspect-reasoning dept

Julian Sanchez points us to the news that a district court judge has rejected an attempt by the privacy-rights group EPIC to force Homeland Security to release some 2,000 full body scans from the TSA's new airport scanners. EPIC has been suing to get the new scanners banned, saying that the machines violate both the Fourth Amendment (unreasonable searches) and the Administrative Procedures Act, which requires a public review of such plans before the government can implement them.

The group had filed a Freedom of Information Act for a variety of information about the scanners a while back, and while Homeland Security provided some documents, it withheld 2,000 test images that were done with volunteers. EPIC then went to court, but the judge claimed that the government has no obligation to hand over such info, and that providing such info could "provide terrorists and others with increased abilities to circumvent detection by TSA and carrying threatening contraband onboard..." In other words, the judge buys into the TSA's strategy of security by obscurity.

Frankly, if it's really true that releasing some images of what these scans look like make it possible for terrorists to beat these machines, then these machines are clearly useless. The TSA is delusional if it thinks that terrorists can't get their hands on these kinds of images. If the machine is so weak that having some images teaches you how to beat it, then the machine shouldn't be used in the first place.
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Filed Under: freedom of information, scanners, tsa
Companies: epic, tsa


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2011 @ 9:01am

    Well, considering the nature of this post, I feel the need to chime in. I am a FOIA specialist by trade, so this is pretty ,uch my job. As a representative for the profession, I'll also be trying to keep personal opinion out of this.

    The issue is over Exemption (b)(2) High, or 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(2): "This section does not apply to matters that are ... related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency". (b)(2) is seperated in to "high" and "low." "Low" encompasses trivial matters with no legitimate public interest, like parking policies or bathroom breaks. "High" applies to more substantial information if disclosure would potentially lead people to circumvent rules or statutes.

    In short, the (b)(2) High exemption is precisely "security through obscurity." There could be arguments of why this shouldn't be, but regardless, the law says that it is a perfecly acceptable exemption to FOIA disclosure.

    As for the "internal personnel rules and practices" (b)(2) has been ruled as an acceptable exemption for "vulnerability assessments." Test images by volunteers seems to fall under the same category, especially considering the whole point was to determine effectiveness.

    tl;dr - The ruling is legit. If you have issue, it should be with the law itself. "Security through obscurity" is enshrined in the case law of the FOIA.

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