Law professor fights TSA body scanners

Correction appended

Senior Heather Hachenburg stepped onto a yellow footprint and lifted her arms above her head. After being circled by a full-body scanning machine for one minute, she was permitted to board her flight to the District.

Hachenburg was one of thousands of travelers this past week who underwent the Transportation Security Administration’s new security measures that have sparked a national debate, one that a prominent GW Law School professor has now joined.

Law professor Jeffrey Rosen said the scanners are unconstitutional and supports a lawsuit that hopes to block use of the scanners in airports across the country.

Rosen serves on the advisory board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research center that has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the use of the scanners. He penned an editorial in the Washington Post Sunday, calling the scanners invasive and a violation of constitutional rights.

“The main reasons that the scanners are arguably unconstitutional are first that they are ineffective, and second that they are overly intrusive,” Rosen said in an interview with The Hatchet. “The scanners can be designed in other ways.”

Rosen said in the Netherlands, for example, machines produce blob images – not the detailed body images the “naked machines” in the U.S. do. He added that the TSA should “rely more on human intelligence rather than on ‘feel good’ technology.”

“I was at National Airport not long ago and one of the TSA officers asked me if I was the professor who was always bashing the scanners,” Rosen said. “Before I [started explaining], even the TSA agent agreed with me.”

The new full-body scanners – which cost between $130,000 and $170,000 each – are able to detect weapons and liquid explosives that cannot be sensed by metal detectors.

Though protesters organized National Opt-Out Day the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving – mainly an online movement to reject the scanners during holiday travel – the TSA reported that very few travelers actually opted out of the scans and chose to be patted down.

About 400 scanners have been installed in 70 airports around the nation, including Washington Dulles International Airport and Washington Reagan National Airport.

When asked about privacy concerns regarding scanner images, TSA spokeswoman Sarah Horowitz said the images are blurred and the technology cannot store, export, print or transmit images.

Horowitz added that “advanced imaging technology has led to the detection of over 130 prohibited, illegal or dangerous items at checkpoints nationwide since January of this year.”

This article was changed on Dec. 2, 2010 to reflect the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW Law School professor Jeffrey Rosen signed onto the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration’s full-body scanners. In fact, Rosen serves on the EPIC’s advisory board but does not sign EPIC briefs.

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