“News & Views In Three”
Give Us Three Minutes and We'll Give You The World. Visit our Submit News page to send us topics.
Send us your favorite YouTube video links and we'll feature them here! Email: videos(at)big3news.net
Cargo from more than 600 semi-truck trailers traveling Eastbound on Georgia’s I-20 was scanned last week by mobile X-ray units for explosive and radiation threats as part of an expanded federal counter-terrorism operation, Big 3 News has learned.
(SCROLL DOWN TO READ OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH PRIVACY EXPERT FREDERICK LANE)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), federal air marshals and other state and local agencies conducted the exercises on September 28 and September 30 at a truck weigh station near Exit 41 and Lee Road in Douglas County.
First reported by local media and the Christian Science Monitor, the activities are part of the TSA’s expanded Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program.
Created nearly five years ago after the Madrid, Spain train bombings, the VIPR program seeks to provide surface transportation security by introducing the element of unpredictability into security activities. This is according to April 2010 guidelines recommended by the American Public Transportation Association for transit employees.
The VIPR teams are comprised of “federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams,” who work in partnership with state and local law enforcement.
In fiscal year 2010, the program received $80 million from the federal government. The funding included an additional $50 million for new VIPR teams dedicated solely to surface transportation security, according to June 10, 2009 testimony by Gale Rossides, TSA Acting Administrator, before a House of Representatives sub-committee.
The operation conducted last week in Georgia is believed to be one of the first high-profile instances of the expanded use of VIPR teams. Previously, such resources had only been used throughout the nation at rail, bus and ferry facilities.
Federal agents were not responding to a specific threat, according to WSBTV.com, although the Atlanta, Georgia area is a major transportation hub.
“Atlanta is an important transportation hub. Aside from the world’s busiest airport being here, it’s obviously a central trucking hub,” said Jon Allen with the TSA.
Big 3 News previously reported that a Massachusetts-based technology company, American Science & Engineering, has sold more than 500 mobile X-ray vehicles to U.S. and foreign government agencies.
Privacy experts say the backscatter X-ray technology — also used at airports and some federal courthouses — is slowly eroding citizens civil liberties.
Authorities say the additional security measures are needed to combat security threats.
“The intent of the operation is to make sure that the nation’s transportation systems, in this case the highway system and trucking, remain safe and secure,” Allen told WSBTV.
IN-DEPTH: Computer forensics expert Frederick Lane says technology poses threat to “fragile” privacy rights
Vermont-based privacy and computer forensics expert Frederick Lane spoke to Big 3 News on Oct. 3 in an exclusive interview about the government’s intrusion into the lives of Americans with the use of emerging technologies such as mobile backscatter X-ray units.
“I think it’s important to point out that the program that took place down in Georgia was aimed at trucks that normally could be pulled over for whatever kinds of safety inspections and weight inspections,” Lane said. “The government’s probably in a gray area where this kind of scanning could be seen as incidental to their normal safety inspections.”
Lane, however, said there could be constitutional issues raised if the technology becomes truly mobile and is used for random scanning of vehicles traveling on the highway.
“I think that’s where you would actually run into a very serious Fourth Amendment problem right there,” Lane explained. “The government would essentially be looking inside a private space without any reasonable suspicion or probable cause of criminal activity.”
Lane is the author of five books, including, “American Privacy: The Four-Hundred-Year History of Our Most Contested Right.” His career began as an attorney about twenty years ago and transitioned into writing and lecturing.
“Privacy has always been in the background of the topics that I’ve worked on,” Lane said.
In 1972, Lane had the opportunity to work on the Rockland, Massachusetts school computer system, which sparked a nearly forty-year interest in technology. When the personal computer was introduced to the public around 1981, Lane bought one and has been working with and on them ever since.
In 1999, an attorney in Burlington contacted him to assist with the first Internet-related murder case involving computer issues.
“That was really my introduction to the field of computer forensics,” Lane said. “I’ve been working in the field for eleven years now. I’ve started to expand out into lectures, to federal public defenders and state defender programs, to help them understand some of the intricacies of computer forensics.”
In his latest book, “American Privacy,” Lane seeks to educate the public about the origins of the right to privacy.
“It’s really an attempt to help people understand how fragile of a right it is, and how much of a threat is posed to it by technology,” Lane said. “Our conversation today is a great example of how that’s happening.”
Ironically, the term “privacy” doesn’t appear in the founding documents of America. Lane says this ambiguity sometimes leads to interpretation conflicts related to the concept of right to privacy. He said the challenge of the courts has been to interpret the original intent of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which creates a relationship between citizens and the government that set limits on what the government could do.
“Even though none of those documents use the word privacy, a lot of what they’re talking about — freedom from search and seizure, the right to free speech, the right to religious freedom — these various provisions are designed to create a space in which we can live, and the government cannot invade that space without a very good reason.”
Increasingly, though, the government — and to a larger extent the corporate world — is invading the spaces of privacy through emerging technologies such as the iPhone, the iPad, high speed wireless like 4G, and now mobile X-ray capabilities.
Lane says one of the reasons law enforcement agencies are more likely to blur the lines between privacy and security is because the boundaries are not always clear.
“The older technologies, like telephone calls and letters to some degree, were known quantities,” Lane explained. “There were well-established procedures for how to monitor that, the courts understood how to deal with it. It was a relatively straight-forward matter to, for instance, put in a legal, authorized wiretap and do an investigation that way.”
Emerging technologies such as email, text and instant messages make investigative methods more difficult.
The broad, anonymous nature of the Internet, combined with less sophisticated surveillance tools, means law enforcement efforts to collect information on specific, targeted individuals can be over-reaching.
“The question comes down to, what’s going to be done with that information,” Lane stated. “How will it be used, is it being stored, will it be used for other unlawful purposes, in the sense of unconstitutional purposes? That’s the real challenge that both law enforcement and the courts face.”
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), upon implementing backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave units in airports across the nation, claimed that strict privacy safeguards are built in to the use of advanced imaging technology in order to protect passenger privacy and ensure anonymity.
Lane dismissed as “ridiculous” such claims that passenger images are not stored or saved.
“It’s simply a fact of life that when you can capture information, unless you’ve got incredible safeguards — which the TSA clearly doesn’t — those images are going to be stored some way. They’re going to be distributed for laughs, for potentially lucrative purposes, whatever. But, it’s nonsensical to think that that information would actually stay in one place.”
The TSA’s Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response (VIPR) program is based on the same technology being used in airports. While legal implications about the use of mobile backscatter X-ray units in a mass transit environment may fall into a gray area, Lane believes the use of such units to scan urban areas and individual neighborhoods would amount to nothing less than “rolling surveillance of American citizens.”
“I think that’s a totally legitimate concern,” Lane said. “I think the fact that we’re only just beginning to find about those, despite the fact that clearly hundreds of those have been sold (to the government), is really problematic and quite disturbing.”
The author said technological progress suggests that such intrusive devices can only get more powerful and smaller.
“It may not be very long, months, maybe a few years, when these devices are employed in vans and they will look just like any other delivery van on the highway. You would have absolutely no idea that you were being scanned as you drove from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’.”
Lane believes that in order to stem the tide of invasive surveillance technology and the growing use of location-based surveillance such as point-of-sale and RFID applications, Congress must act.
“I would like to see candidates start to pay attention to this, and I definitely would like to see the Senate or House Judiciary committees start to weigh this on a regular basis so that we have some discussion taking place about how these things will be used and what the implications are,” Lane said.
You can leave the author a moderated comment or video response about this article by posting it below, call 1-440-249-NEWS (6397) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you find this content interesting? If so, please consider a small PayPal donation.