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TSA's mm-Wave Body Scanner Breaks Diabetic Teen's $10K Insulin Pump 811

OverTheGeicoE writes "Savannah Barry, a Colorado teenager, was returning home from a conference in Salt Lake City. She is a diabetic and wears an insulin pump to control her insulin levels 24/7. She carries documentation of her condition to assist screeners, who usually give her a pat-down search. This time the screeners listened to her story, read her doctor's letter, and forced her to go through a millimeter-wave body scanner anyway. The insulin pump stopped working correctly, and of course, she was subjected to an invasive manual search. 'My life is pretty much in their hands when I go through a body scan with my insulin pump on,' she says. She wants TSA screeners to have more training. Was this a predictable outcome, considering that no one outside TSA has access to millimeter-wave scanners for testing? Would oversight from the FDA or FCC prevent similar incidents from happening in the future?"
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TSA's mm-Wave Body Scanner Breaks Diabetic Teen's $10K Insulin Pump

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  • new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:28PM (#39932275)
    TSA: Nearly killing innocent people, to keep you safe!
    • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Interesting)

      by lgw ( 121541 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:49PM (#39932617) Journal

      Wasn't there a Cornel (?) study showing that the TSA caused more American deaths (from people deciding driving was better than molestation) than terrorists over a decade?

      • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:08PM (#39933017)

        You have the same odds of being killed on an airplane by a terrorist as you do being killed by cancer from a body scanning device (1 in 30 million):

        http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120405/04390118385/tsa-security-theater-described-one-simple-infographic.shtml [techdirt.com]

        • by berashith ( 222128 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:23PM (#39933321)

          they are relying on that 1 in 30,000,000 person being a terrorist. that way we all win.

          • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

            by b4dc0d3r ( 1268512 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:59PM (#39935455)

            Spock: That is wise. Were I to invoke logic, however, logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
            Kirk: Or the one.

            Killing an individual would be better for society than letting an individual kill bunches of individuals. You make a joke, but that is the way the TSA works. We are not people, we are statistics. There is no way to treat us as individuals.

            Anyone who works with familiar co-workers every day, herding strangers through life, will never see us as individuals. Police, TSA, fast food - there is a bond with the people you know, the "us", and everyone else is "them".

            It is psychologically impossible for the TSA as a whole to be sympathetic to individual situations, including mental illness and prosthetics or implants. It will never happen because of our innate need to group people socially, without drastic changes.

            If it will not work, abolish it, that is the only other option.

        • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:24PM (#39933341)

          I think you were trying to imply it is senseless to avoid these scanners. However this just goes to point out how stupid the effort to prevent terrorism is. The risk is so low even with 9/11 happening that it make no sense to subject people to ANY kind of screening. People should be able to hop on a plane as easily as they hop in the car and drive to work or hop on the subway, a bus, or any other form of public transport ion which has no screening and lots of people.

          Can jets be used as bombs? Yes. So what! There are lots of other more dangerous problems that we should be investing time and money in solving that should be taking precedent. Like cancer, global warming, and education.

          • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

            by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:35PM (#39933543) Homepage Journal

            People should be able to hop on a plane as easily as they hop in the car and drive to work or hop on the subway, a bus, or any other form of public transport ion which has no screening and lots of people.

            The TSA wants it to be equally easy as well, which is why they are trying to work their way into harassing citizens ("Papiere bitte") on every mode of transportation.

          • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

            by wfolta ( 603698 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @05:16PM (#39934173)

            How exactly do you calculate the risk of terrorism -- in this case hijacking or bombing? It's not as simple as taking the current number of hijackings and bombings, dividing by the current number of flights, ignoring the fact that screening is currently in place (and has been since the 1970's), and thus "proving" that we don't need screening of any kind.

            And how are you accounting for the "success effect"? At one point in the early 70's there were over 60 hijackings in a single year, because they were fairly easy to do and they fairly easily achieved their goals (and hence were "successful")? If it were as easy to kill thousands or tens of thousands of infidels as walking on to a plane, do you doubt that there would be many more than there are currently? (In 9/11: we were incredibly lucky. Fully-fueled planes crashed into high-density areas and only killed, on average, about 1,000 people each. That's amazingly low, and it of course doesn't count the economic cost, rendering multiple city blocks uninhabitable for years, etc.)

            Not saying that any kind of screening or abrogation of our rights and privileges can be justified. Just not feeling the honor system for flights would work out all that well.

            • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Informative)

              by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:26PM (#39935087)

              It's not as simple as taking the current number of hijackings and bombings, dividing by the current number of flights, ignoring the fact that screening is currently in place (and has been since the 1970's), and thus "proving" that we don't need screening of any kind.

              WHAT 'screening in the 70's? Hell, as late as 1968, you could walk onto the tarmac, board a commuter flight, and buy your ticket on the plane. This was going on during riots in major American cities, militant groups screaming armed revolution and having regular shootouts with the cops, and hijackings were common enough that a skit on a national comedy show had a guy come into an airliner cockpit waving a gun screaming "This plane is going to Chicago!", and when he's informed it's already going to Chicago, claims "I was on this flight last week, and we ended up in Havana!"

              All that was done was, they started placing a couple armed air marshals on board the most hijacked flights. No screenings. No patdowns. Yeah, they xrayed your luggage, but that was about it. Hell, they'd even let you smoke during the flight.

              • Re:new slogan (Score:4, Informative)

                by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @08:33PM (#39936327) Homepage Journal

                Then in 1972, somebody brought and explosive device onto the plane. Fortunatly they were able to land the plane and evac. A k9 unit was brought in, and the found the bomb with 15 or so minutes left. There were three incidents in 1973

                Why you think hijacking aren't worth preventing is beyond me.

                X-rays, metal detectors, and pat downs when the detector alerted where happening in 1969.
                They became mandatory in 73(74?) by Nixon. It pretty much stop the hi-jacking and deaths. Yes, people where killed during hijackings.

                "Hell, they'd even let you smoke during the flight."
                I sure as hell don't miss breathing other peoples poison.

                you want to blame someone? start with Jack Graham.

                The TSA is overboard, but don't go on like safety was fine, It wasn't.

            • Re:new slogan (Score:5, Insightful)

              by tburkhol ( 121842 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:28PM (#39935115)

              Not saying that any kind of screening or abrogation of our rights and privileges can be justified. Just not feeling the honor system for flights would work out all that well

              There is a vast middle ground between the invasive grope-and-scan system the TSA uses and the pre-DB Cooper honor system. The ease with which hijackings happened in the 70s-90s was largely due to the explicit policy of complying with hijackers demands. This policy was reversed about the same time the second plane hit the tower and, in combination with locked cockpit doors, pretty well assures that hijacked aircraft will not be effective guided missiles again.

              Instead of making an attempt to balance the cost, inconvenience and, yes, risks of ever more invasive screening procedures, TSA throws up the terrorist bogeyman and tells us that if all this expense saves even one life, then it's all worth it. Events like this one serve to remind us that screening procedures, even those involving minuscule risks, when applied to hundreds of millions of people, cause morbidity. Morbidity that is much more predictable (and therefore more preventable) than terrorists. So, the question is: would you prefer safe magentometer-only screening and a 0.0000001% chance of hijacking, or body scanning, with a 0.0000001% chance of cancer and a 0.00000001% chance of hijacking?

        • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @06:29PM (#39935123)

          You have the same odds of being killed on an airplane by a terrorist as you do being killed by cancer from a body scanning device (1 in 30 million)

          BEDIVERE: So, logically...,
          VILLAGER #1: If... she.. has the same odds of being killed on an airplane by a terrorist as she does being killed by cancer from a body scanning device then she's made of wood
          BEDIVERE: And therefore--?
          VILLAGER #1: The TSA are Terrorists!
          CROWD: Terrorists!
          BEDIVERE: We shall use my largest millimeter wave scanner!

    • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:53PM (#39932733) Homepage
      I prefer

      TSA: bringing more terror to flight than actual terrorists!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:20PM (#39933257)

      Being an insulin dependant diabetic, they could have easily killd her. It could have failed the other way and dumped several days of insulin into her at once. I guess once she passes out, they would have done a body cavity search before calling the paramedics.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:28PM (#39932277)

    The White House just said the war on terror is over.

    We don't need the TSA screeners any more, send them home and stop the unnecessary abuse of U.S. citizens.

  • forced? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:29PM (#39932283) Homepage Journal

    Wait a minute... I think the larger issue here is that they forced her through the scanner.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but is that not improper? I thought they had to allow manual inspection at your request.

    • Re:forced? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:31PM (#39932313)

      She is a teenager. I bet they bullied her into "voluntarily" going through the scanner.

    • Re:forced? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by santax ( 1541065 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:32PM (#39932317)
      Of course they force her... she is 16 and looking good!
      • Re:forced? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:38PM (#39932435)

        +1. Several women have been forced to walk through the scanner multiple times, in order for the men to get a better view of their nudity on the screen.

    • Re:forced? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by samazon ( 2601193 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:35PM (#39932377)
      If you read the article, I'm not sure "forced" is the right word. What I gathered from, "When someone in a position of authority tells you it is - you think that its right. So, I said, Are you sure I can go through with the pump? It's not going to hurt the pump? And she said no, no you're fine." (direct quote from article) is that this was a case of a TSA employee being an idiot, not a TSA employee getting handsy. Not that it's right (it's not) but she allowed them to put her through the body scanner because she didn't want to argue with the security personnel about whether it would damage her machine. I can see why she wouldn't want to argue, but STILL. Forced makes it sound a little uglier than it is.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        A better word than forced would be 'coerced.' You NEVER have to get in their unsafe scanners. You can ALWAYS opt out.

    • by pavon ( 30274 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:44PM (#39932529)

      If you read the article the TSA agents advised her that the insulin pump would not be damaged by the scanners, despite a doctors note to the contrary. She took their advice, assuming they knew what they were doing, and chose to go through the scanner rather than requesting a pat-down.

      While her actions are understandable, if she had simply requested a pat-down like the doctor instructed her to do rather than asking for a second opinion, this would have been avoided. Likewise if agents weren't so stupid as to disagree with a doctor's order on a matter they knew nothing about, this would have been avoided. Given their position of authority they should be liable for the cost of the pump since their negligence caused it to be destroyed.

      • by cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:58PM (#39932843)

        She is likely to get the same response as another customer who asked, "How did my luggage get damaged? Why did the TSA cut the lock off?"

        "GO TO HELL" scrawled on the complaint form.

        Or maybe the handicapped soldier who asked, "Where did my 300 dollars disappear too? I put it right here in the tub."

        "You causing trouble?"
        "No sir."
        "Then shut up or we'll bar you from flying."
        The handicapped soldier boarded the plane & lost his 300.

        Or maybe the woman with the breast pump who was told, "You can't take that onboard." She was then forced to demonstrate it to the TSA woman to prove it was a breast pump, else it would have been confiscated & junked.

        Or the mother who was carrying milk for her newborn infant, and the TSA told her to dump it or else. She showed them printouts of TSA procedures and they tossed them in the trash. They then placed her in a glass jail for an hour, made her miss her flight, and refused to refund the ticket for the plane.

        THE SA DOESN'T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT BROKEN DIABETIC PUMPS OR ANY OF THE FUCKING PASSENGERS. They are goons with power trips. They need to be fired and replaced with what we had pre-911 (xrays of baggage/metal detectors for passengers).

    • The two words you have to say are "Opt Out". They are required to hand search you. If they refuse, make a fuss. Get arrested if necessary. Even better, call the press on your cell phone. They'd love a story like this.
  • EMC compliance (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:31PM (#39932309) Journal
    FYI: medical products, especially ones that have the potential to kill if they malfunction, have to undergo substantial testing to demonstrate their immunity to electromagnetic interference. This includes stuff like TV, radio, and cellular transmissions, microwave ovens and WiFi. There are also special field frequency/strength combinations, such as the typical medical detector or consumer anti-theft device.

    However, there aren't regulations regarding immunity to mm-wave and THz scanners, and certainly not at the intensities these devices use. I suspect that, if you were to test a broad range of existing medical products, many of them would fail, because many of them have mm-scale electrical features (especially, circuit board traces) that would be highly susceptible.
    • Re:EMC compliance (Score:5, Informative)

      by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:50PM (#39932623)

      From an electrical point of view, many medical devices are simply to sensitive to be made immune to induced interference. The noise will have to affect them some how. It is just a matter of how big the noise source is (magnitude), the frequency of the noise source (Hz), and what geometry it sits relative to the medical device (coupling.)

      Obviously, the TSA has found a big enough noise source.

      In particular, the difficulty with mm-wave interference is that it can induce noise directly onto the geometries of integrated circuits and thin-film devices. The only way to guard against the problem would be to heavily shield the chips in question. Maybe it is time for medical devices to start using radiation-hardened integrated circuits. Radiation hardened circuits are designed to withstand short and intense blasts of EMI, including high-frequency EMI sources.

    • Re:EMC compliance (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:55PM (#39932781)

      I did RF compliance and sensor design for two insulin pumps. An insulin pump is considered a Class 2 medical device, which means that it is an acceptable to stop delivering insulin and alert the user in case of a failure. The user would then rely on manual delivery until the fault cleared.

      A Class 3 would be required to continue delivering therapy (and announce the error) in a single fault situation. This is reserved for devices where a manual fail-over isn't a safe option.

  • by tirerim ( 1108567 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:31PM (#39932311)
    Once you enter the security line, is it possible to just leave and not get on your flight if they refuse to do a manual search? Or are you at their complete mercy? I've never had a problem getting one with my own pump, but this story makes me nervous.

    In any case, I really hope she sues them and wins.

    P.S. This is probably a good time to mention Rand Paul's End the TSA petition [chooseliberty.org] and bill. I'm not usually a big fan of him, but this is one thing I can get behind.
  • RTFM (Score:4, Informative)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:32PM (#39932321) Homepage

    I'm rather surprised that the TSA doesn't (appear) to have a manual to deal with known issues like insulin pumps, joint prostheses, etc. I wouldn't expect rank and file workers to know the answer to everything but there should be a way to look stuff up.

    Being rude, however, is absolutely never appropriate. Even if you think the person is the next 'medical device bomber' being professional and polite should always be required.

  • Everytime.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by greywire ( 78262 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#39932457) Homepage

    Every time there's a story about the TSA making life unpleasant for Americans, a terrorist gets his wings..

    Congratulations, the terrorists have won.

  • forensic analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hoxford ( 94613 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#39932461)

    I want to see the results of a forensic analysis of the unit to find out why it failed. if the scanner is putting out enough energy to permanently damage the circuits it's a strong argument against the safety of these things.

    • If it was a millimeter scanner, most likely there was resonance with circuit trace(s). A resonance in the right spot (input to an opamp for example) and you could say further operation is undefined.

  • by Dog-Cow ( 21281 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:42PM (#39932485)

    I hope her parents sue the TSA for attempted homicide and win enough to bankrupt the US.

  • Jessie Ventura (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MrShaggy ( 683273 ) <chris.anderson@[ ]h.com ['hus' in gap]> on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:48PM (#39932593) Journal

    He has had hip replacement surgery. "Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura is suing the TSA and Homeland Security for humiliating and ‘offensive’ pat-down procedures he’s been subjected to during airport security checks that included ‘warrantless, non-suspicion-based offensive touching, gripping and rubbing of the genital and other sensitive areas of his body.’ "

    He is suing them in court.

  • by Lashat ( 1041424 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @03:49PM (#39932603)

    You read the paperwork. Look at the device. Screen the passenger without the scanner. Document the incident with your peers and/or manager.

    Move on and save the agency $10k because you are allowed to act like a human being with common sense.

  • by OverkillTASF ( 670675 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:18PM (#39933209)
    If someone posted a story where someone claimed that their grandmother's pacemaker stopped working because the LHC was turned on, it would get voted down as unsupported circumstantial and anecdotal evidence. Most Slashdotters probably also laugh at people who are religious, even those who are convinced they witnessed a miracle from God at some point in their life. Come on guys. This is 99% a case of seeing what you want to see.
  • by wile_e_wonka ( 934864 ) on Tuesday May 08, 2012 @04:33PM (#39933513)

    The article says:

    She says TSA agents then made the situation worse when they didn't know what to do about her juice and insulin. "She said, because we don't have the machines to scan the juice to make sure this is not an explosive we do have to do a full body pat down and search your through your bags."

    So, here is what I don't understand: how did the pat-down help the TSA determine that the juice and insulin were not actually explosives?

    Well, now we've shown terrorists how to get explosives on a plane: pretend to be diabetic and bring your explosives in juice boxes and bags marked "insulin." Combine "juice" with "insulin" and get on the 5:00 news.

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.