2010-12-10 / Top Stories

Schumer Sets Penalty For Body Scanner Pix Release

United States Senator Charles E. Schumer announced this week that he is introducing legislation that would make it a federal crime to misuse images recorded from Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) full body scanners used at airports across the country. Specifically, the law would make it illegal to unlawfully record a body scan image or distribute a body scan image to persons not permitted to have the images by law. Schumer’s legislation would prohibit any person with access to the scanned body images, whether security personnel or members of the public, from photographing or disseminating those images and would impose a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 per violation for any person convicted of doing so.

“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,” said Schumer. “As we put in place new technologies to detect and capture those who wish to do us harm, we need to do everything we can to protect the privacy rights of the air travelers.”

Federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have statutes on the books that make it a crime for any employee of the agency to disseminate private information to anyone not entitled to receive it. No such statute exists for TSA body scanning images. Schumer’s legislation, the Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act, would create similar privacy statutes and make the misuse of TSA full body images illegal. The legislation makes it unlawful to photograph or record an image of a body scan at an airport; makes it unlawful to distribute an image of a body scan at an airport; and lastly, provides a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 per violation.

According to the TSA, full body scanners cannot save images and are immediately deleted once a passenger has successfully passed through the security screening process. Despite similar assurances, just two weeks ago it was reported that some 35,000 images from full body scanners at a Florida Courthouse were saved and 100 of them were posted online. While these images were not obtained from airport screening procedures, they highlight the potential for misuse of full body scan images. Schumer’s legislation covers not only the misuse of the original images recorded from the actual scanners, but also photographs of scans recorded and disseminated from personal cameras, video devices, or cell phones, taken from security personnel, airport employees or passengers.

“Striking a balance between safety and security is vital in our effort to keep the American public safe,” continued Schumer. “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. At the same time, they want to know that same precautions have been taken to ensure their privacy is respected. This law goes a long way toward doing just that.”

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