In a near unanimous vote, the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill that would make it a federal crime to record, photograph or disseminate images produced by airport body scanners.
The Senate voted 98 to Zero to amend the proposed FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Act (S. 223) to include provisions making it a federal crime to misuse images produced at airports by the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) full body scanners, as well as images produced by scanners at federal courthouses and federal office buildings.
The bill the amendment is based on—the Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act (S. 4037)—was introduced by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. The proposed legislation covers not only the misuse of the original images produced by the actual scanners, but also scans that are photographed using personal cameras, video devices or cell phones, taken by security personnel, airport employees or passengers. Violations could incur penalties of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000 per infraction.
“The American people understand that every step needs to be taken and every resource needs to be used to ensure the safety of our citizenry,” Nelson says in a joint statement with Schumer. “Using technology to scan individuals for hidden weapons is a necessary—albeit sometimes unpleasant—aspect of making sure our airways and public buildings are safe. However, safeguards should be in place to deter people from collecting and using those images inappropriately, and we’re proposing tough consequences to make sure these images stay private,” Nelson 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. “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,” he said.
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, about 35,000 images from a full body scanner at a Florida Courthouse were saved and 100 of them were posted online. While those images were not obtained through airport screening procedures, they highlight the potential for misuse of full body scan images, the statement says.