Jonathan Cohen
April 24, 2010

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A group of more than 30 privacy and civil liberty groups on Wednesday asked [petition, PDF; press release] the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) [official website] to suspend the full body scanner [TSA backgrounder] program being implemented by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) [official website]. The petition states that use of the full body scanner program is an invasion of privacy [JURIST news archive] and that:

deployment of Full Body Scanners in US airports, as currently proposed, violates the U.S. Constitution, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”), the Privacy Act of 1974 (“Privacy Act”), and the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”). As described below, the FBS program effectively subjects all air travelers to unconstitutionally intrusive searches that are disproportionate and for which the TSA lacks any suspicion of wrongdoing.

According to the petitioners, the scanners are a step toward doing away with individualized suspicion and are particularly offensive to devout individuals. As such, the scans are opposed by religious groups [RNS report]. The petition also alleges that the scanners themselves have two major flaws: they cannot detect powdered explosives [Independent report], and the operating systems are vulnerable to attack [WP report].

In February, the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) [official website] announced that full body scanners in use at two UK airports may be illegal [JURIST report]. The body scanners were introduced in part as a response to the failed US bombing attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [Telegraph profile; JURIST news archive] on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. The attempted attack prompted Obama to announce tighter security measures, which civil rights groups opposed [JURIST reports] as a pretext to racial profiling.

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