Image: Sample streetside scan
American Sciences & Engineering
A sample streetside scan image from American Sciences & Engineering.
updated 3/3/2011 4:56:39 PM ET 2011-03-03T21:56:39

The Transportation Safety Administration is denying reports that is has tested mobile scanning technology that can be used from vans deployed along city streets or at public events.

According to Forbes:

Newly uncovered documents show that as early as 2006, the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets.

The non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Wednesday published documents it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security showing that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned a study of new anti-terrorism technologies that EPIC believes raise serious privacy concerns. The projects range from what the DHS describes as "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 currently used in American airports.

EPICobtained a copy of what Forbes describes as a "173-page collection of contracts and reports," acquired through the federal Freedom of Information Act. The documents include contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University and Rapiscan Systems, Forbes said:

One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements. In another program, the researchers were asked to develop a system of long range x-ray scanning to determine what metal objects an individual might have on his or her body at distances up to thirty feet.

“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.”

The TSA — whose enhanced screening measures late last year resulted in a huge public outcry because of the way enforcement — and passengers — were being handled, says the rolling, mobile security checks are not happening.

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"A TSA official responds in a statement 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,' " Forbes said in an update.

But one of the photos from the report obtained by EPIC chillingly shows a "sample streetside scan image from American Sciences & Engineering," according to Forbes.

The TSA's enhanced airport screening, which gives travelers a choice of a having either a high-tech, full-body image done or an invasive pat down, is being challenged in court with some lawsuits.

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Also, the American Civil Liberties Union says it has gotten more than 1,000 complaints from travelers — "including breast cancer survivors — who said they endured intrusive pat-downs," the Associated Press said recently. "Among other things, the travelers claim TSA agents patted their genitals and ran fingers through their hair or along their bras or waistbands."

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