Dear Department of Homeland Security,

December 1, 2010

You have said that “Advanced Imaging Technology” scanners are “safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy.” But, the truth is that the GAO and experts have raised serious questions about the effectiveness of these machines and whether they could possibly justify the invasion of privacy involved. How have these machines been tested? On whom and over what period of time? What levels of what form of radiation are being used? What materials will they detect—and what materials will they miss?

Authorities at DHS say you can opt out of the naked scan. But doing so will subject you to new and highly invasive manual searches of your body, including your intimate parts, by TSA officers. How have these officers been selected and trained? What is the procedure for young children, who are being told by their parents that some touching is bad—does a uniform and a badge make it O.K.? If a child who has travelled a few times becomes subject to abuse, how will they know that this time it is NOT all right? What about victims of previous sexual assaults—will this trigger memories of an assault and impede their healing process? What about gay and lesbian men and women—for them, a same-sex agent could be a potential sexual partner—is the pat-down still appropriate, or does it become an intrusive sexual advance, even if not intended as such? If not, and if they do not choose to identify their sexual orientation, what options do they have—especially if they set off a scanner by virtue of a prosthesis?

In addition, DHS has claimed the right to search and seize the laptops and other electronic devices of international travelers. Never before have customs officers been able to routinely pore through a lifetime’s worth of letters, photographs, purchase records and other data without any basis for suspicion. Must one wipe one’s electronic devices of anything private before travelling? Buy a travel-safe electronic device solely for getting through airports, depriving oneself of one’s own private information for the duration of the trip? What about seized devices—when and by what means are they returned?

Until all these questions, and probably more that don’t spring immediately to mind, are answered unequivocally and in a manner that treats all persons respectfully and with dignity, these procedures are. as they say, “not ready for prime time”—go back to the drawing board and get it right.

Thanks to the ACLU for and providing the basic text for this letter and the opportunity to modify it as a personal letter and then send it to the DHS.