Did someone repeal the 4th Amendment when I wasn't looking?

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” — US Constitution, 4th Amendment

The government may be looking at everything inside your car as you drive down the street. Forbes reports “Full-Body Scan Technology Deployed In Street-Roving Vans”:

American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview. …Reiss says law enforcement agencies have also deployed the vans to search for vehicle-based bombs in the U.S….

EPIC’s Rotenberg says that the scans, like those in the airport, potentially violate the fourth amendment. “Without a warrant, the government doesn’t have a right to peer beneath your clothes without probable cause,” he says. Even airport scans are typically used only as a secondary security measure, he points out. “If the scans can only be used in exceptional cases in airports, the idea that they can be used routinely on city streets is a very hard argument to make.”

This is the latest unconstitutional violation of Americans' 4th amendment privacy rights. New scanners in airports can look under your clothes and provide graphic images of your genitalia. Forbes:

Negrin, a 44-year old TSA worker in Miami, faces assault charges after beating a fellow airport security employee who mocked the size of his genitals after they were revealed in a full-body scanning exercise.

The Guardian:

The rapid introduction of full body scanners at British airports threatens to breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children, the Guardian has learned.

Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to “virtual strip-searching” and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.

Ministers now face having to exempt under 18s from the scans or face the delays of introducing new legislation to ensure airport security staff do not commit offences under child pornography laws.

They also face demands from civil liberties groups for safeguards to ensure that images from the £80,000 scanners, including those of celebrities, do not end up on the internet. The Department for Transport confirmed that the “child porn” problem was among the “legal and operational issues” now under discussion in Whitehall.

TSA has repeatedly promised to use new privacy-violating technologies sparingly and then quickly breaking those promises:

TSA assured us that the scanners would be used only as a “voluntary alternative” to “a more invasive physical pat-down during secondary screening.” Only a few passengers, the ones selected for extra scrutiny, would face the scanners. The rest of us could walk through the metal detectors and board our planes.

Surprise! Two months ago, TSA revised its position. It began testing millimeter-wave scans “in the place of the walk-through metal detector at six airports.” At these airports, everyone—not just people selected for secondary screening—would face the see-through machines. Anyone who objected would “undergo metal detector screening and a pat-down.” You might even get the “enhanced pat-down,” which includes “sensitive areas of the body that are often used by professional testers and terrorists,” such as “the breast and groin areas of females and the groin area of males.” Show us your body, or we’ll feel you up.

Now the plan is going nationwide. Joe Sharkey of the New York Times reports that TSA “plans to replace the walk-through metal detectors at airport checkpoints with whole-body imaging machines—the kind that provide an image of the naked body.”

…Two years ago, I linked to a scan that seemed to expose every intimate body contour of TSA’s research lab director. TSA argued that the picture was moot because its machines (which at the time used backscatter technology) had been upgraded with a “privacy algorithm” to obscure such features. But you won’t find the phrase privacy algorithm on that page anymore; it’s been scrubbed. In fact, privacy algorithm has completely disappeared from TSA’s Web site. So have the images that used to show a frontal backscatter image of a male passenger. All you can find on TSA’s millimeter-wave page are four scans shrunk to a size so tiny you’d need a magnifying glass to make sense of them. Good luck figuring out how much they show—and why they look nothing like the image depicted in a video (WMV file) on the TSA site….

The lesson of the escalating body scans, like the escalating pat-downs, is that TSA will do whatever it thinks it needs to do. Last year, when the agency announced its “enhanced” pat-downs, it… [said] any detail omitted by airport screeners—a blurred crotch in the body scan, an untouched groin during the pat-down—becomes a “gap” exploited by terrorists or testers, which must then be closed.

These technologies clearly violate Americans' 4th Amendment rights. And there’s zero evidence they have prevented a single terror attack. So why are taxpayers paying hundreds of millions of dollars to let government agents — nominally public servants — violate our privacy rights?

Posted by James on Sunday, August 29, 2010