Proposed Law Would Criminalize ‘Misuse’ of Full-body Scanner Images

3 mins read

Image: tsa.gov/blog

Two Democratic senators have proposed a law that would make it a federal crime to “misuse images” recorded by the Transportation Security Administration’s full-body scanners.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) offered the legislation as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization bill currently before the Senate.

According to a press release from Schumer’s office, the law bars any person with access to scanned body images — whether TSA employees or members of the public — from photographing or distributing those images. It carries penalties of up to one year in prison, and as much as $100,000 in fines..

The Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act aims to create privacy statues similar to those on the books for the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, which prohibit employees from disclosing private information.

Schumer first proposed a law to criminalize the dissemination of body scanner images in December, when the outrage over “naked body scanners” and the holiday travel season was kicking into high gear.

“This law sends a loud and clear message to the flying public, not only will we do everything we can to protect your safety, we will also do everything we can to protect your privacy,” he said.

But, TSA has argued the distribution of scanner images is a moot point because the scanners can’t save the images, and they are immediately deleted after passengers have passed through security.

However, Schumer’s press release draws attention to a breach at a Florida courthouse last year, where images from full-body scanners were saved to the system and eventually wound up on the Internet.

Schumer said the proposed law strikes the proper balance between safety and privacy.

“Overwhelmingly, Americans want to know that when they board a plane and take to the skies every possible precaution has been taken to ensure their safety,” he added. “At the same time, they want to know that . . . precautions have been taken to ensure their privacy is respected.”

In any case, TSA has also made plans recently to rethink the balance privacy and security. The agency announced last week it was rolling out a new “generic” body-scanner featuring less graphic images.

What are the prospects for passage? A number of Democratic co-sponsors have signed on to the bill, which is attached as an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill.

According to an Atlantic report, a Schumer staffer said he expects the FAA reauthorization to pass “handily.” But, there’s no word yet on how the individual amendment will fare.

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