In light of flaring controversy over the Transportation Security Administration’s enhanced pat-downs and nude body scan imaging systems, officials have continued to stress that detailed photographs of passengers’ anatomy are not saved and do not get passed around.
But, that’s not true in all cases. An attorney for the US Marshals admitted in August that over 35,000 images from a body scanner in an Orlando, Florida courthouse were recorded and stored.
Tech blog Gizmodo published 100 of the images on Tuesday, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, noting that marshals had “mismanaged” the machine. The photos are not of a graphic nature as they were taken using a less advanced scanning method than what’s generally employed in airports.
The admission was first made in a letter by Marshal Service attorney William Bordley, in response to a lawsuit by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC).
EPIC calls the body scanning program “unlawful, invasive, and ineffective,” and has asked a federal judge to bring it to a halt. Complaints about the TSA’s new screenings are increasingly popular among a cross-section of Americans, partisan and not.
“Advanced imaging technology cannot store, print, transmit or save the image, and the image is automatically deleted from the system after it is cleared by the remotely located security officer,” the TSA insists. “Officers evaluating images are not permitted to take cameras, cell phones or photo-enabled devices into the resolution room.”
To the contrary, “devices are designed and deployed in a way that allows the images to be routinely stored and recorded, which is exactly what the Marshal Service is doing,” EPIC’s executive director told CNET. “We think it’s significant.”
Janet Napolitano, director of the Department of Homeland Security, has insisted in recent days that travelers who object to the new procedures still have the choice to not fly.
Michael Chertoff, the former DHS director and a vocal supporter of x-ray machines, owns a security company that contracts with Torrance, California-based Rapiscan, one of two major manufacturers of x-ray body scanners. The government ordered its first body scanners in 2005, during his chairmanship.
In 2008, under Napolitano, the DHS spent $25 million in funds provided by the Recovery Act to purchase an additional 150 Rapiscan machines, and more sales are expected.
A trial run with the machines was for a short time barred in the UK, as they were ruled to be in breach of child pornography laws. The trial only went ahead after ministers exempted anyone under 18. In the US, TSA policy does not exempt children from the screening and an opt-out by a parent is the trigger a compulsory invasive pat-down.
The Senate Judiciary Committee had scheduled a hearing on the TSA for Wednesday, during which administrator John S. Pistole was expected to testify.