Misusing body scanner images would become a federal crime punishable by up to a year in prison under a proposal offered Tuesday in the Senate, an attempt by lawmakers to address concerns raised by some travelers.
Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed an amendment to an aviation bill. It would prohibit anyone with access to the scanned body images, whether security personnel or members of the public, from photographing or disseminating those images. Besides a prison term, violators could be fined up to $100,000 per violation.
The proposal would apply to images made by body scanners run by any federal employee, including security employees at airports and federal courthouses. It covers not only the misuse of the original images recorded by scanners, but also photographs of scans recorded and disseminated from personal cameras, cell phones and video devices.
Nicholas Kimball, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said the body scanners used by Transportation Security Administration workers at airports are not capable of storing, copying or transmitting images. Each time a passenger is scanned, he said, the image of the previously scanned passenger is deleted.
However, a statement released by the senators pointed to news reports that 35,000 body scanner images made at a Florida courthouse had been retained. Jeff Carter, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said those images were made unintentionally by the marshals service using a different type of scanner than those at airports.
“While these images were not obtained through airport screening procedures, they highlight the potential for misuse of full body scan images,” the statement said.
“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,” Schumer said in the statement.
It is already illegal for employees of some federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration to disseminate private information to anyone not entitled to receive it, the senators said. However, no such statute exists for TSA body scanning images, they said.