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Law Would Impose Punishment of Up to 1 Year in Jail and $100,000 Fine for Anyone Convicted of Unlawfully Recording or Distributing Body Scan Images

Schumer: Striking the Balance Between Safety and Privacy is Vital


U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska offered the Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act today as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration's Reauthorization Bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate. The law would make it a federal crime to misuse images recorded from Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) full body scanners used at airports across the country.


The NelsonSchumer legislation ensures that any person with access to the scanned body images, whether security personnel or members of the public, would be prohibited from photographing or disseminating those images and it would impose a penalty of up one year in prison and a fine up to $100,000 per violation. The NelsonSchumer legislation is cosponsored by Senators Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Sheldon Whitehouse of Connecticut, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Jon Tester of Montana and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.


"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," said Schumer. "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."


"Nebraskans and all Americans understand that every step needs to be taken and every resource needs to be used to ensure the safety of our citizenry," said Nelson. "Scanning individuals for hidden weapons is a necessary - albeit sometimes unpleasant-aspect of making sure America's airways and public buildings are safe. However, safeguards should be put in place to deter individuals from collecting and using those images inappropriately."


Federal agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) have statutes on the books that make it a crime for any employee of the agency to disseminate private information to anyone not entitled to receive it. No such statute exists for TSA body scanning images. The NelsonSchumer legislation, the  Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act, would create similar privacy statutes and make the misuse of TSA full body images illegal. The legislation makes it unlawful to photograph or record an image of a body scan at an airport; makes it unlawful to distribute an image of a body scan at an airport; and lastly, provides a sentence of up to one year in prison and up a fine of up to $100,000 per violation.  Schumer originally introduced the bill in December 2010.


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, it was reported several months ago that some 35,000 images from full body scanner at a Florida Courthouse were saved and 100 of them were posted online. While these images were not obtained through airport screening procedures, they highlight the potential for misuse of full body scan images. The NelsonSchumer legislation covers not only the misuse of the original images recorded from the actual scanners, but also photographs of scans recorded and disseminated from personal cameras, video devices, or cell phones, taken from security personnel, airport employees or passengers. 


"Striking a balance between safety and security is vital in our effort to keep the American public safe," continued Schumer. "Overwhelmingly, Americans want to know that when they board a plane and take to the skies every possible precaution has been taken to ensure their safety. At the same time, they want to know that same precautions have been taken to ensure their privacy is respected. This law goes a long way toward doing just that."