A lot of people despise the idea of the x-ray body scanners in airports, and it's easy to understand why. However, for a lot of people, the alternative is just as bad (as demonstrated by John Tyner's now-viral "Don't touch my junk" video); they don't want to be groped by a perfect stranger anymore than they want a perfect stranger to see them naked. Personally, I always opt for the grope, because I know that save for the ol' mental PVR, a TSA agent can't store my pat-down on any kind of system. I imagine there are a lot of people who share my reasoning. Still, what happens to the images of those who are scanned?
The TSA has always said these images will never be recorded or stored, but we know that the machines are capable of storing images. Recently it emerged that U.S. Marshals operating the millimeter wave scanner at the Orlando, Florida, federal courthouse had stored more than 35,000 images. One hundred of these images have since been obtained by Gizmodo and posted online. Giz insists that all identifying features have been eliminated, which should offer some comfort to the public servants and private citizens pictured, but it's disturbing to think that the site could even get a hold of them at all.
It's important to emphasize that these pictures are not of TSA travelers, but of people entering a courthouse and being screened by U.S. Marshals. Still, the underlying concern for a lot of people remains the same: If the U.S. Marshals can record people, why can't the TSA?
"That we can see these images today almost guarantees that others will be seeing similar images in the future," writes Joel Johnson.
Meanwhile the TSA is adamant that it does not store images ever. The TSA's resident blogger, known as Blogger Bob, has penned a post in response to the article above.
"This is about the US Marshal Service (NOT Federal Air Marshal Service) storing Advanced Imaging Technology images at a Florida courthouse checkpoint (Not a TSA checkpoint)," writes Bob. "This has led many to ask if TSA is doing the same. As we’ve stated from the beginning, TSA has not, will not and the machines cannot store images of passengers at airports. The equipment sent by the manufacturer to airports cannot store, transmit or print images and operators at airports do not have the capability to activate any such function."
However, an August article on CNet cites a February 2010 TSA disclosure in which TSA admits that all machines purchased by the agency must to be able to store and transmit images for "testing, training, and evaluation purposes." TSA says these capabilities are not activated when the devices are installed at airports.