Tuesday, Nov 16th, 2010
The footage of images taken and stored by a full body imaging machine that have leaked online only tell part of the story as to why the machines constitute such a threat to privacy.
The Drudge Report today linked to a story by Gizmodo.com which highlights the fact that the TSA and Janet Napolitano's assertion that the imaging machines cannot store, transmit or print images is not true.
As reported by Declan McCullagh of CNET at the time, "The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse."
The images EPIC obtained were accompanied by a letter (PDF), in which William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, admits that "approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine" used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse.
Brijot, the manufacturer of the body scanning equipment in question, also admits that its machine can store up to 40,000 images and records.
So clearly this story proves that the aforementioned claims of the TSA and Napolitano are outright lies, and that the American public therefore cannot trust the government's pledge of privacy protection.
However, proponents of the technology may seize upon the fact that the leaked images show only fuzzy outlines of the people walking through the machines, thus bolstering an already debunked notion that the full body scanners do not show crisp detailed images of naked bodies.
"What's the big deal here?" the wider public may be inclined to think after seeing the images.
It therefore should be reiterated that the leaked images are taken from a millimeter wave machine and not one of the x-ray backscatter machines. The two have roughly the same capabilities, but the majority of machines being implemented now in airports all over the country, and the world for that matter, are the more sophisticated backscatter devices, which produce images of a much higher resolution, revealing much more detail. As scientists have pointed out, these machines are also more of a health threat.
EPIC, has filed two further lawsuits against the Department of Homeland Security over the scanners, claiming that the DHS has refused to release at least 2,000 images it has stored from scanners currently in use in U.S. airports. It is believed that these images are the more detailed "naked" ones that are causing so much furor.
The group points to a further document it has obtained from DHS showing that the machines used by the department's TSA are not only able to record and store naked body images, but that they are mandated to do so.
The TSA has admitted that this is the case, but claims that it is for training and testing purposes only, maintaining that the body scanners used at airports cannot "store, print or transmit images".
Below are some images taken from the more sophisticated backscatter devices. As you can see, they show all parts of the body in crisp detail: