TSA's Expensive Scanners Can't Figure Out Afros Or Turbans, So Guess Who's Getting Searched More Often

from the can't-solve-any-real-problems-so-let's-just-focus-on-making-people-angry dept

The TSA accidentally admitted years ago that its (annoying) presence at airports was extraneous. Summoned into existence by the 9/11 attacks, the TSA was nothing more than an obsolete government fixture a few years later. With terrorism being pretty much ground-based at this point in time, we're left to wonder why we still need to jump through all the TSA's hoops just to board a plane agents haven't made any safer with their elaborate security pantomime.

The TSA may not be able to find any bombs headed for planes, but it will leave no baby stroller/terminal disease sufferer unturned in its quest to justify its continued existence. It may not be able to stop terrorists, but it will not let an inert souvenir go uncrowed about on its blog or social media accounts.

Instead of doing anything useful, the TSA busies itself with the busywork of looking busy. To ensure maximum harassment of travelers, it's adding things like this to its list of annoying traits:

The futuristic full-body scanners that have become standard at airports across the United States are prone to false alarms for hairstyles popular among women of color.

[...]

Two officers interviewed by ProPublica said the machines’ alarms are frequently triggered by certain hairstyles.

“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a TSA officer who works at an airport in Texas and asked not to be named. “Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.”

A government report in 2014 found that the machines also “had a higher false alarm rate when passengers wore turbans and wigs.”

We're spending an awful lot of money to increase the perception of racial bias by the TSA. Turbans, wigs, and "black hair:" that's 2/3rds of a Stormfront post being funded by tax dollars and inflicted on people whose heads have been deemed more "suspicious" by machines that answer to no one.

The more you read of this ProPublica report (written by Brenda Median and Thomas Frank), the more ridiculous it gets. The TSA's attempt to talk its way out of this mess is cringe-worthy and inadvertently hilarious. I don't know what this is, but it's one of the least credible things an anonymous official has ever said:

A senior TSA official said in an interview that hair pat-downs are not discriminatory and are done when a body scanner indicates that a passenger has an object in his or her hair. “I get a hair pat-down every time I travel. I’m a white woman,” said the official, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that she not be named.

Do tell. Fill me in with the details while I notify @_DHOTYA. As a "senior TSA official," I doubt she's getting patted down on a regular basis, much less her hair... much less getting patted down AT ALL, really.

The TSA also believes its covered because it once said something about this on a website few travelers read.

The TSA advises passengers to remove all items from their hair before going through airport security and warns on its website that “wearing a hairpiece, extensions or a wig as well as a ponytail, a hair bun or braids” may trigger an alarm.

Dear TSA,

Just because you've posted your stupid warning about hair bombs to your website doesn't make this particular search any less stupid. How do I know? Well, I picked it up from something you said.

The TSA would not say if it had ever found a weapon in a passenger’s hair.

Yeah, that's a "no" in any other language. Trust me, if the TSA had ever found a weapon or bomb precursor or child porn or a bag of drugs in anyone's hair, it would have been covered by all major new outlets and we would all -- not just those of us with turbans or non-straight hair -- be subjected to the sort of head prodding we haven't seen since the heyday of phrenology.

So, for $150k/per, we're getting "state of the art" scanners that can't detect metal like our older, dumber metal detectors or spot actually suspicious objects encased in human hair. Whatever bias the expensive scanners can't provide, agents can create for themselves. As the TSA points out, hair searches are at agents' discretion. Hair styles and types agents find more suspicious than others can result in head patdowns, so long as they clear this ultra-low discretion bar:

...if “an individual’s hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.

We're paying billions a year for this it's-funny-because-it's-oh-so-very-unfortunately-true comedy. We all need to line up for a refund.

Filed Under: discrimination, scanners, tsa


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 8:15am

    A better use of TSA efforts

    I am recommending that TSA agents search themselves as a primary task. They should line up in a configuration that resembles a Möbius strip at each installation and proceed searching until they get to the end of the line. They should keep copious notes about false positives and actual dangerous items found. The traveling public would be free to continue on their journeys until the TSA's primary task is complete.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 30 Aug 2019 @ 9:59am

    The TSA may have accidentally made themselves a target

    I would think Trump would be interested in cracking down on all machines that identify wigs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Aug 2019 @ 8:04am

      Cracking down on all machines that identify wigs?

      I would think Trump would be interested in cracking down on all machines that identify whigs, because whigs are liberals.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:02am

    I haven't seen a U.S. government official try this hard to deny government-approved racism since the last time Trump tried to do it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:14am

    False positives falling mainly on people of color? Nice Feature!

    This all assumes it wasn't designed this way to provide justification for extra searches for people of color. The exact same way that drug dogs are used to turn an unconstitutional search into one that gets a wink and a nod. No one ever gets to question their results, even when you are allergic to them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 8:13am

      Re: False positives falling mainly on people of color? Nice Feat

      This all assumes it wasn't designed this way to provide justification for extra searches for people of color.

      More likely it was only tested on white people - possibly only white men. Not to say that isn't a problem, but it's a different problem than the designers sitting around asking "how do we make this thing false positive on black people?"

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:16am

    The scanners also have problems with the difference between a colorful empty glass container and a steel sphere full of high explosive. https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/28/tsa-bans-star-wars-galaxys-edge-thermal-detonator-coke-bottles.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 11:11am

      Re:

      In all fairness, the bottles from Galaxy's Edge are plastic with the distinctive designs: red "Coke", gray "Diet Coke", and clear/ green "Sprite" . And as we all know, metal detectors and multi-million dollar scanners can't see through plastic.
      And even worse, the object has a logo in some foreign language, which probably means "blow up real good" in Arabic or Farsi or some other "evil" language, when it actually says "Coca-Cola" in Aurebesh, the made-up language from "Star Wars".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:26am

    Bio - logical

    The TSA would not say if it had ever found a weapon in a passenger’s hair.

    You know there's someone at the TSA arguing that lice they found was a biological weapon and they're trying to figure out how to announce it without anyone catching on...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:40am

    Welfare

    The TSA employees you see at the airport are only there because their job isn't really a job. Airport TSA efforts quickly evolved into an welfare program for the unemployable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 10:46am

    or is the 'cant figure out' bit purposeful so as to give excuse for the extra searches of these people? i wouldn't put anything past or even trust the mentality of those in charge of any of the security forces!! look at the Police State the USA has become and how much it is despised worldwide now!! all because of certain peoples fear mongering!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Karl (profile), 30 Aug 2019 @ 11:18am

    My pot belly

    My belly has started getting flagged this year. I've seen the image. It shows a highlight on my stomach. So, I get my belly patted. Yeah, I know, lose the pounds. I agree but it's hard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Aug 2019 @ 4:05pm

    Maybe he should have worn a hat ?

    "Trust me, if the TSA had ever found a weapon or bomb precursor or child porn or a bag of drugs in anyone's hair, it would have been covered by all major new outlets and we would all -- not just those of us with turbans or non-straight hair -- be subjected to the sort of head prodding we haven't seen since the heyday of phrenology."

    Well, it was not in the USA, it was in Spain, and I certainly hope it did not take the use of a scanner, but they did find "a bag of drugs in [someone's] hair," ..

    Man held in Spain over attempt to smuggle cocaine under his wig

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    nasch (profile), 4 Sep 2019 @ 8:10am

    Weapons in hair

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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