Los Angeles

L.A. Metro Starts Rolling Out TSA-Approved Scanners at Subway Stations

The new scanners will prove just as effective as TSA airport security.

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Luis Sandoval Mandujano/Dreamstime.com

Public transportation in the U.S. is often overly expensive and unnecessary, so it makes sense that the agencies that run transit systems would want a security system to match.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) announced that it was partnering with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in deploying new body scanners on its subway system.

Metro will be the first transit agency in the country to deploy the new machines, which are supplied by British company Thruvision at the rough cost of $100,000 a piece. According to a TSA press release, the scanners will be used to "keep transit riders safe from person-borne improvised explosive devices or other weapons that are intended to cause mass casualties."(Similiar machines are being experimented with at bus and rail stops in New York and San Francisco.)

The scanners, which TSA tested and recommended but which Metro staff will operate, mercifully do not require people to line up one by one to be scanned. Rather, the portable Thruvision machines are able to pick up the waves emitted by the human body as they walk through the machine's field of vision, while security personal look for concealed objects that might be blocking these waves. That makes them less invasive and cumbersome then the body scanners you might find at airports. It doesn't make them any more useful.

Because they rely on those waves emitted from the human body to reveal hidden objects, these scanners can only detect things that people are carrying on their person. In the case of terrorism prevention, that would be suicide vests or maybe pipe bombs (like the one used in an unsuccessful attack near the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal in December 2017).

A would-be terrorist with any kind of guile could get around this security precaution by simply carrying an explosive device in a backpack.

The two most high profile attacks on rail transit in Western Europe—the 2004 Madrid train bombing and the 2005 London Underground bombing—both saw the perpetrators smuggle explosive devices onto trains in backpacks or small bags.

There's reason to be skeptical about how useful these scanners will be even for spotting dangerous concealed objects on passengers' persons. According to a 2015 ABC investigation, undercover federal agents had a 95 percent success rate at getting fake weapons and explosive devices through far more intensive and individualized TSA airport screenings. A 2017 report from the Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General also found that TSA screeners and equipment often failed to detect contraband smuggled through security by undercover agents, with failure rates possibly as high as 80 percent.

It's possible LA Metro security staff scanning whole crowds of people at once will do a better job, but I doubt it.

This ineffectiveness shouldn't worry passengers too much. Actual instances of terror attacks on public transit in the U.S. remain incredibly rare. Apart from the 2017 Port Authority bombing—which killed no one, and only left the attacker seriously injured—I could find no example of similar attacks on U.S. buses or trains.

The security threats one actually faces on America's public transit systems are more mundane: muggings, assaults, and occasional homicides. The new scanners will do precious little to prevent these crimes. Judging by videos of Thruvision scanners in action, security personal will have a hard time telling the difference between someone's phone or wallet and all but the most conspicuous weapons.

The end result of these scanners then will be less privacy, and the same amount of safety for Metro riders.

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  1. To be honest about it, the whole TSA should be funded by NEA grants as long-running, audience participation, theater. Very avant-gard.

      1. Non-performance art.

    1. I will now respond to this comment by means of interpretive dance

  2. What if I have a carry permit?

    1. You’ll receive either a tepid apology or a rebuke about endangering innocent lives after you’re release from your six month illegal detention.

    2. Did you miss the part where this is in LA?
      If you have a carry permit, it must be a web purchased fake.

    3. Lol, this is L.A. if you have a carry permit, you aren’t slumming it on public transportation….you have connections.

    4. In California? In Los Angeles?????

      1. Many Californians have carry permits issued in their (rural) counties. The permit is good in the entire state.

  3. A would-be terrorist with any kind of guile could get around this security precaution by simply carrying an explosive device in a backpack.

    Thanks TReason for providing a manual to Al Qaeda.

  4. I have an unpleasant suspicion that there are hard-core terrorists out there who, when they strike, will do so with some method we’re not specifically prepared for. (Though later, there will be a paper trail of memos by Cassandras who warned about the possibility only to get brushed off).

    I can’t really fell secure in the protective arms of the surveillance state – my policy is just to ignore the possibility of a sudden horrible death by terrorism in hopes it won’t happen.

    1. But the worse the attack, then in addition to the deaths, I can see several if not all of the provisions of the Bill of Rights get abolished, or at least put on the shelf “for the duration.”

      Sweet dreams!

    2. They will use squirrels.

  5. Idiots. They have money for this, but they can’t keep all the abusive drunks and insane people who scream insults at everyday people off the train.

    1. Maybe they can use some sort of scanner to see which of the riders has fully loaded bowels, the contents of which will be left in under the back right seat of the third subway car.

    2. “Idiots. They have money for this, but they can’t keep all the abusive drunks and insane people who scream insults at everyday people off the train.”

      Well, they are better spending this money to prevent us from using plastic bags and plastic straws. It’s money well spent.

  6. “The security threats one actually faces on America’s public transit systems are more mundane: muggings, assaults, and occasional homicides.”

    And sexual assaults by agents of the state – – – – – – – – – – – –

  7. Should be ripe for a Fourth Amendment challenge. Airports are allowed to conduct their searches under the legal fiction that air travel is a privilege, not a right – that if you don’t like it, there are all kinds of other transportation options available to you. Also, airlines are (mostly) privately owned. Subways and trains, on the other hand, are much more heavily used (on a total riders-per-day basis) and are entirely government funded. This would seem to be no different than the obviously-unconstitutional search of everyone walking down the street.

    Of course, being in LA, the Ninth Circuit will rubber-stamp it and the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider a case is always a guess at best. By the time they do finally consider it, it may be so “normal” that the infringement is accepted. The death of freedom will not be at the hands of a single tyrant but through the gradual erosion of rights once held dear and slowly traded for the illusion of security.

    1. LA has a Subway?

      1. Rather a lot of them.

        But also, the LA Metro fits easily within the description “subways and trains“.

  8. More reason to not go to California, take the LA Metro, and give Commifornia one cent.

    1. Kind of ironic with Reason being based there…

  9. I spent one summer in LA, when I was nine, because my father was trading a summer’s worth of instruction for access to some papers in the possession of UCLA. I’m glad I saw the city before it sank into the political tar pit that is Progressive Left Rule.

  10. I think it’s just sort of a given that eventually these things, or something like them, will be everywhere and ubiquitous.

    Then, we’ll have almost no freedom but hey at least we also won’t have any safety!

  11. TSA is the sole reason I drive between LA and SF. I’m sure this will go a long ways toward reducing automobile traffic in LA.

  12. Another reason to avoid their crappy sandwiches

  13. The end result of these scanners then will be less privacy, and the same amount of safety for Metro riders.

    And an increase in unwelcome interactions with law enforcement pulling people over for additional screen because of false positives.

  14. Great, now you have to wear a condom to ride the subway in LA to avoid violating their porn production regulations.

  15. The result will be less safety for riders, because the real purpose is to detect people carrying concealed weapons.

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