Homeland Security Was Interested In Doing 'Covert' Pedestrian 'Scans' From 30 Feet Away

from the privacy-is-so-over dept

Last year, we wrote a few times about how there was a company selling scanner vans — based on the same technology used in those airport naked scanners — that could be used to surreptitiously look into vehicles. Mostly they were being sold to law enforcement, however some of them were being sold to private buyers. Given all this, it should come as little surprise that Homeland Security has been interested in expanded use of such scanning technologies, with a newly released report suggesting it explored greater surveillance with naked scanners — such as mobile units for special events or for public transportation hubs, as well as “covert” systems that could scan large groups of people without them knowing it. There was even discussion of one system that could scan people from 30 feet away.

To be honest, it’s not all that surprising that Homeland Security would explore all of this (and it’s a bit of an exaggeration to focus on the TSA as doing this — which is implied in the link, since it appears to be a wider DHS effort), so I don’t think it’s as big a deal as EPIC makes it out to be. EPIC tends to over-exaggerate these types of things. The TSA has responded to the story with a sort of carefully worded denial that doesn’t really speak to the issue:

“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.”

The is a pretty narrowly defined answer. First, it only focuses on the mass transit part, and it also limits the answer to the specific imaging technology used at airports. It does not answer whether or not the TSA has looked at other forms of technology for these kinds of scans. On top of that, it narrowly limits the answer to the TSA, not the wider DHS. Is it really that hard for Homeland Security to give a straight answer? I mean, the idea that it might research these technologies seems perfectly reasonable. Why not just say that, and then be upfront about it?

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Comments on “Homeland Security Was Interested In Doing 'Covert' Pedestrian 'Scans' From 30 Feet Away”

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Ron Rezendes (profile) says:

Re: Oooh! Perfect!

As soon as they scan me – the book I’m holding and the CD I bought – they will be the ones breaking the ever-so-precious IP and copyright laws. It’s hard to see how they can justify breaking the law to check and see if I might be breaking the law. Of course, since I just bought these items at the mall bookstore I never did anything illegal or to even raise the suspicion.

Obviously this is hypothetical, because I don’t shop at malls, I buy digital copies of my books and I doubt I’ll ever buy another commercially produced CD in my life.

DH's Love Child (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

‘Tis a pity the Fourth Amendment does not actually say that: It does not explicity address “privacy”, and “search” is such an ambiguous and tenuous term.

You’re right, however the Supreme Court has ruled very specifically on this matter and said unequivocally that the right to privacy is guaranteed by the 4th Amendment.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: I don't understand why

Because you are a dumbass.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide”
Well I do. See every Thursday I bang my wife in the living room for as long as the Viagra will last. It is no ones business. I like to sit in my underwear and scratch my nuts every 20 min or so. It is no ones business. I read to my little girl from the time I get home at 7 until her bedtime at 8:30. It is no ones business. I like to get piss drunk, pretend I am captain feather sword, and frolic around my property half… mostly nekid. It is no ones business. I like to have meaningful conversations with friends and family. It is no ones business. Get it yet dumbass?

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I don't understand why

“We know; we’ve been watching DHS’s live feed.”

I’d like to respond to this enflamed and totally untoward accusation. It is absolutely untrue. At no time has the Dark Helmet Sexy-time web stream EVER broadcast footage of weneedhelp pooping. Come on. Think of it. The very notion is ridiculous.

We only show bitches poopin’, yo….

r (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If I have nothing to hide then I may have nothing to fear.
If I have nothing to fear then I might have nothing to die for.
If I have nothing to die for I have nothing. See? Make sense?

I have the inherent right to privacy everywhere. It is not your right to see that which I do not wish you to see simply because you can. Which may include but is not limited to what’s beneath my clothes, in my pockets, on my phone or on my mind.

The good news is that your idea of security makes me afraid.

aj00200 (profile) says:

Re: the right to privacy

The reason people have the right to privacy is, in part, to ensure that we could overthrow an over-oppressive government if need should arise. Imagine doing this with your personal FBI agent standing behind you making sure that you bow down to the dictator three times daily.

There is also a huge potential for abuse by authorities. If they could just walk into our house whenever they want, I’m sure many would abuse it somehow (theft, snooping, and so on).

If police could search us whenever they wanted, wouldn’t criminals just become extremely proficient at hiding stuff while the police are busting down our doors regularly because we look suspicious or have been unfairly profiled?

Lastly, everyone has things they don’t want other people to read. Maybe its a diary of their personal feelings or love letters to their spouse. Would allowing the FBI, DHS, TSA, police, or whatever to read love letters really make us safer.

The world manages to survive somehow and we still have privacy. Its a win-win situation!

Chris (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t understand why I would have to let them watch me poop. Plain and simple, I don’t want to. And that whole “if you don’t have anything to hide” argument is a crock. I damn sure have plenty to hide. I’m pretty damn sure I don’t have to interact with government agents of any kind unless a certain procedure of law has been adhered to.

Anonymous Coward says:

People walking in a public area should assume they are subject to observation by video camera or other devices.

When you visit Las Vegas, you are recorded almost every where you go. Most casinos have some form of facial recognition software in play. Many of them are using very covert means to observe visitors and to filter out people blacklisted from their properties.

I do not see where anything like this violates your rights. You put your face in a public area, it is subject to image capture and anything else they want to do, including scanning you for whatever can be detected in that public area.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re:

People walking in a public area should assume they are subject to observation by video camera or other devices.

True. One should always believe they are being watched when out in public.

Now, in my own house is a different story – I demand my privacy there.

In my car is a gray area to me. Foreign diplomats’ vehicles are considered to be their foreign soil, so why wouldn’t it follow that my car is an extension of my property and therefore given the same expectations of privacy as when I am in my home?

Jackie (profile) says:

Re: Scanner Vans

I object to be x-rayed covertly. These vans are using compton effect x-ray. It’s a particularly dangerous form of x-ray. And quite likely to cause skin cancers, eye cancers and brain and testicular cancer.

As a physicist, I’m against it. And it is illegal testing on an uninformed population without their consent. I would suspect that the government might get away with it. But I would be glad to help fund a lawsuit against any corporation that used such a device.

As I have gotten older I can see how absolutely scandalous abuse of populations continue. In my childhood, it was common to be irradiated by fallout. To this day, no studies are done to calculate how many additional deaths were caused by fallout from atmospheric testing. I think that we won’t see estimates of added cancer deaths made until another fifty years have passed. However, you might note that cancer deaths are decreasing nowadays.

I remember seeing one documentary where a bunch of gov’t fools sat around and declared that it was estimated that their tests would cause an added 100,000 infant deaths per year.
What they didn’t say was that that was acceptable because no one would ever be able to prove that atmospheric testing would cause the deaths. And the subject population wasn’t to be informed.

aj00200 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Although I do not like having my picture taken or a video of me recorded, I accept this in public because it is normally quite easy to identify cameras and look away, but when they use a van to x-ray me and take what is essentially a naked picture of me, that is entirely different. Unless they put a big “THIS VAN X-RAYS YOU AND TAKES A NAKED PICTURE OF YOU AND MAY CAUSE CANCER WITHIN x FEET” warning on the side, they should be illegal wither owned by a private individual who is building their porn collection or by government agents who are building their porn collection.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I will laugh hard if you start seeing people using anti-face-recognition-camouflage everyday.

Which kind of reminds me of the movie Brave Heart and the word Freeeeeeeeeeedom! LoL

Face recognition is useless in Stadiums where people paint themselves already.

Also this could lead to the adoption of hight tech masks like the Frog Design Concept and the various fabrics that can be applied to the body or the outside of anything keep people private.

jilocasin (profile) says:

Using advanced tech to spy on people without a warrent illegal

Well, back in 2001 the Supreme Court rules 5-4 that using an IR camera to spy into someone’s home constituted a search under the fourth amendment and required a search warrant. [ Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001)].

I would be surprised if the same ruling wouldn’t be used to rule that back scatter x-ray and / or millimeter radar would be illegal without a search warrant on the same grounds.

This would appear to make surreptitiously scanning your house or vehicle illegal without a warrant. I would imagine it’s a little vaguer when it comes to your person. After all there are instances when the police can search your person without a warrant, but I wouldn’t think that they would be applicable to some sort of mass secretive scanning.

Now some people seem to be under the impression that since it’s O.K. to record people in public via cameras that this would be the same thing. In the above mentioned case the Supreme Court justices took pains to differentiate what a normal unaided person could see verses advanced tech. would let you see. If the cops could see criminal activity with their eyes (ex: through an open window) then they wouldn’t have needed a warrant. Since the IR camera allowed them to see through walls (just like the tech Homeland security is trying to expand the use of) it was a search and required a warrant. Therefore, cameras that only record what a normal person could see are O.K. in public, but tech that allows the government to see more than that would be a search triggering fourth amendment protection and require a warrant.

Just my $0.02.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think it’s been made fairly clear that use of technology to see more than what the unaided eye can see is considered a search.

By those terms using a scanner of this nature in public on people who’ve committed no acts to warrant a search should simply be illegal.

The day our country’s “security” requires random scans and mass data collection to maintain, or other unconstitutional methods, is the day we need to evaluate the sustainability of our country and adjust as necessary.

chris hanson says:

see, this here is more proof that you nut jobs on techdirt just don’t get it. if the mpaa is not allowed to bribe their congresscritters to pass funding bills so the dhs can scan your house remotely from 30 feet away without worrying about petty and minor violations of the 4th amendment, then the terrorists win, and none of your children will be safe from online pedophiles. how can you people not get this? NOTHING is more important than the safety of our children, and you rabble rousers need to knock it off with your “debating the issue” and “raising awareness”. BAD, bad, sheeple.

charles edward okafor says:


does this kind of device actually exist? i mean a camera that can scan even a group of people from as far as 30feets away and also scan cars. I am a private security expert though not a big one yet, but i hope and pray it gets big sooner. We have needs of it and i need to learn more about such possible devices.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: inquiry

i hope and pray it gets big sooner.

You’re hoping the government gets the ability to easily and covertly scan you and your car from a distance without asking? Seriously? I know you said you’re in the security business, but can’t you see the abuse that is going to happen with this? I would say “potential abuse” but there’s nothing potential about it, it’s certain.

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