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Senators Push Back on Storing Naked Security Images

The statue of liberty being x-rayed.
The statue of liberty being x-rayed.
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August 24, 2010

Earlier this month, the U.S. Marshals Service admitted that it had stored more than 34,000 images of people who had passed through the millimeter wave body scanners at a courthouse in Florida. They were stored despite federal agencies’ previous statements that “scanned images cannot be stored or recorded.”


CNET reported late last week that a bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to John Clark, Director of the U.S. Marshals Service, asking for a “full explanation” of why the images were stored. And they were kind of peeved:

The media reported last week that, from February 2010 through July 2010, the U.S. Marshals Service stored more than 35,000 images from whole body imaging scans taken at the Orlando federal courthouse. In response to these reports, a U.S. Marshals supervisor was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying that “everyone knows they’re being recorded when they come into the courthouse,” because of all the security cameras, and that “the images [from the scans] are not saved for any specific purpose” (emphasis added). This is a troubling response that suggests the U.S. Marshals Service has failed to fully appreciate the seriousness of the issue. The perception of whole body imaging scans differs greatly from that of security camera footage, and therefore demands a higher level of sensitivity to the legitimate privacy concerns of those being scanned.

Now, we’ve previously waved a red flag about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) use of these body scanners at airports. And it’s been revealed before that images are indeed capable of being captured or stored. So color us shocked that this has happened again, although in a courthouse security context.

And to be fair, as the TSA’s Blogger Bob points out (a bit defensively, we might add), the U.S. Marshals are part of the Department of Justice, whereas the TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. This just goes to show that greater federal oversight of all agencies’ use of these machines is sorely needed.

So thanks to senators Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Saxby Chambliss, (R-Ga.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.). We’re glad you’re investigating this matter further and standing up for our privacy!

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