Following terrorist to smuggle weapons on US airline flights, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) began implementing Body Scanners. Under immediate criticism, they defended the use of the scanners by implicitly stating images from airport scanners couldn’t be saved after the initial viewing.
Last summer, the TSA made the rounds on morning news shows, claiming that “scanned images cannot be stored or recorded.”
It turns out this was a lie; following the media tour assuring our privacy wouldn’t be compromised, it was discovered the images actually could be stored, supposedly for training and testing purposes.
Now it’s been uncovered that at least on federal agency was actively storing and cataloging images without consent or disclosure (secretly).
In a statement last week, the U.S. Marshal Service admitted they’d secretly stored tens of thousands of the controversial scans taken from one security checkpoint in a single courthouse.
Their admittance came on the heels of a TSA disclosure (PDF) that every machine purchased by the agency was required to include recording and transmitting capabilities. Again, claims the TSA, for testing, training, and evaluation. However, they stated, the recording capabilities aren’t typically activated at airport scanners.
Use of the surveillance scanners is beneficial to any security installation; according to the Fed, they’re invaluable because of their ability to detect hidden weapons. Scanners are able to view subjects beneath their clothing; some machines can provide detailed images “so accurate that critics liken them to a virtual strip search.” The scanning systems differ according to the technologies employed. A “millimeter wave system” image is less-detailed, and fuzzier, than that of a Backscatter X-ray Scanner, which shows precise, anatomical detail.
The privacy issue, which began under President Bush, became hotly debated when Secretary Janet Napolitano, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) , released an announcement that scanners would soon be implemented at nearly every major airport.
EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) filed suit in federal court, requesting immediate termination of TSA scanner-use in airports.
According to EPIC, the scanners are being utilized in such a way that images are easily stored, evidenced by the Marshal Service’s disclosure.
A spokesperson for the Federal Marshals acknowledged that they possessed 35,314 images recorded an Orlando federal courthouse; they also disclosed that a machine tested in the D.C. federal courthouse had been returned–image database intact–to the manufacturer.