NEW YORK—Sen. Charles Schumer announced a new legislation Sunday that would make it a federal crime to illegally record or distribute images from the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) full body scanners.
“This new law will send a loud and clear message to the flying public,” Schumer said. “Not only will we do everything we can to protect your safety, but the government should do everything it can to protect your privacy as well. And as you know, most Americans have said they’re willing to accept new screening procedures if it means increased safety.”
According to the TSA, the images from the full body scans are deleted immediately after the passenger completes the screening process, and the machines themselves cannot save the images.
“The new TSA full body imaging scanners are designed to keep passengers safe and ensure that previously undetected explosives, like those found in the cases of the Christmas bomber, who hid explosives in his undergarments, and the shoe bomber Richard Reid, can be identified quickly and accurately,” Schumer said. “No one can deny that’s important; if a terrorist tries this once, they’ll try [it] again.”
The senator added that while safety is top priority, the TSA should do more to ensure people’s privacy.
“As we put in place new technologies to detect and capture those who wish to harm us, we need to do everything we can to protect the privacy rights of the air travelers,” Schumer said.
The senator says his legislation, the Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act, will not affect security but will help ensure the privacy of travelers.
Under this legislation, recording or distributing images taken by the TSA machines would be considered a federal crime. The law would also prohibit photography or any other means of recording those images, either from passengers in line or from the airport employees. The penalty per violation would include imprisonment of up to one year, as well as a fine of up to $100,000.
According to Schumer, many federal agencies, such as the Social Security and the Internal Revenue Service, have restrictions on the use of sensitive information by federal employees, which make it illegal to share private information like tax and health records with anyone not permitted to access the information by law. There should be similar rules for the images obtained by the TSA full-body scanners, says the senator.
“Unfortunately, we have seen cases in the last two weeks where full body images that were supposedly not being saved were [saved] and made it onto the website Gizmodo,” Schumer said.
The images did not come from an airport, but from a Florida courthouse, which follows the same rules as the TSA, according to the senator. The images were supposed to be destroyed immediately after the screening process, but evidently were not. Out of the 35,000 images taken in the courthouse, about 100 made it online.
“Safety must come first, but there are areas where TSA can do more to protect people’s privacy without affecting safety,” Schumer said. “Americans by and large have been very patient, and we recognize that we’re better safe than sorry. We continually must adapt with the smartest and most advanced technology available, but as we do that, we need to ensure that the scales don’t tip too far in just one direction.”