Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
Privacy group says DHS stonewalling on ‘electronic frisk’ technology records
A privacy group that opposes a new form of electronic screening technology has asked the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to investigate Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) practices at the Department of Homeland Security, after the agency refused its request for information on new terahertz scanning technology.
In a letter to OGIS director Miriam Nisbet, the Electronic Privacy Information Centter said it had seen a “systemic problem” at DHS pertaining to FOIA request administration at the agency.
EPIC noted that its request for specific records from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate about the use and development of “Terahertz technology for electronic frisking” had been denied. EPIC said the technology that “electronically ‘frisk’ individuals at a distance,” is being used by police agencies with DHS funding. It specifically requested records about the New York City Police Department’s use of the scanning technology, which EPIC said allows officers to see through clothing, walls, and packaging materials to see exactly what a person is wearing, or carrying in a box or backpack.
The NYPD began testing a terahertz gun detection system in January and has said it would use it only in suspicious circumstances. EPIC, other privacy and civil right groups are wary of the technology, as they are of other electronic screening technologies.
EPIC said DHS is using its fee waiver process to complicate the FOIA requests, saying the agency won’t provide documents until the requestors pay fees for processing them before a deadline. FOIA fee waivers can be granted to requestors in the public interest, however, said EPIC.