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By Wilson Rothman
msnbc.com
updated 8/4/2010 4:06:55 PM ET 2010-08-04T20:06:55

Despite claims by the TSA that electronic body scan images "cannot be stored or recorded," some federal police agencies are in fact saving tens of thousands of images, according to a report by CNET News.

The body scanners, increasingly found in airports, courthouses and other places where security is high, use an assortment of technologies. These include millimeter wave scanners (shown below) — in which the subject is harmlessly pelted with extremely high frequency radio waves which reflect a picture back to the device — and backscatter X-ray (shown above) — which measures low-powered reflective X-rays to produce clearer body shots, shots that can reveal alarmingly precise anatomical detail.

According to CNET, the U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had saved thousands of images that had been recorded from a security checkpoint in a Florida courthouse.

The revelation comes at a tense time. Two weeks ago, when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said such scanners would appear in every major airport, privacy advocates such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit to stop the device rollout.

The reason? Because the devices were "designed and deployed in a way that allows the images to be routinely stored and recorded," EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg told CNET, adding that this "is exactly what the Marshals Service is doing."

Image: Millimeter wave technology
Millimeter wave technology produces an image that resembles a fuzzy photo negative.

As CNET's Declan McCullagh explains, it's the mystery of the devices' potential that is most unnerving: "This trickle of disclosures about the true capabilities of body scanners — and how they're being used in practice — is probably what alarms privacy advocates more than anything else," he wrote.

The TSA maintains that body scanning is "constitutional" and the CNET report notes that while the machines are built to "allow exporting of image data in real time" and provide networked "high-speed transfer of image data," the system are built with filters to "protect the identity, modesty, and privacy of the passenger."

Follow Wilson Rothman on Twitter at @wjrothman.

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Video: Authorities admit to storing airport body scans

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    >>> federal agencies promising body scans cannot be stored and recorded. the u.s. marshal service this week admitted some police agencies are recording them and transporting them. invest, the marshal service said it had secretly saved tens of thousands of images recorded as si -- at a single courthouse in florida alone. this comes on the heels of the transportation security administration reporting all store and transmit images for testing, training and evaluation. all right, mary schiavo is currently an attorney and former head of the federal transportation commission. this seems like a fairly large invasion of our privacy, doesn't it?

    >> well, count on the federal government to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. the reasons they cited for both training and potential love yugss are reasons that are already permitted and in use. it's a threat image projection. they use it for the baggage screening as it goes through, and they actually put an image on the bags that isn't there and once the screeners catch it, a congratulations, you caught the threat comes up. and they are work on the same kinds of things for the broad discreenind body screening. and if the same thing happens at a bank or the 7-eleven, or the bank, you want to smak maik sure nothing is caught that way and then delete them. people where are finally accepting it and doing it, and now this. and it's the falsehoods that i think will play the worst for the public. not the fact that they can actually store them.

    >> you rear right. they should have said they were never recording and transmitting when they were. i agree with you on that. here's what i'm worried about. you think some guys aren't going to save some of the women's pictures. come on, you know they are. you know they are. and you tell me they're not going to save some of the celebrity outlines and sell them online? i bet you 100 bucks they do that.

    >> unfortunately, the images that already have come to light they have saved were some of men. co-workers saved an image of someone that they worked with and kind of to get back at him for something else. so we know it can be done. but the solution is for the faa to come down extremely hard and with the full force of the law on those who do it, not to throw out the technology. because this is, you know, one of the few good arsenals we have to stop threats on the body. to really come down hard on any abusers, but you're right. it's clear that they have this ability, and they can make it clear or they can fuzz out the face image, but you're right. it's a threat when used improperly to our privacy, and no excuse for it.

    >> real quick. let me also ask you. would they have caught the other guys, the shoe bomber , the underwear bomber with this, i mean, because they are not going to come in with glocks. oh, there's a gun.

    >> you'd be -- you'd be surprised what they do come in. yes, they would have caught the underwear bomber and, of course, there was a chance with the shoe bomber , though he was allowed to go through. there was an issue, once they took off their shoes or allowed to go with the shoes, but they would have caught the underwear bomber and, for example, on 9/11 we believe that many of the hijackers, i mean, we worked on those litigations, many of the hijackers might have concealed things in their pants, waist bands or their belts and that would have certainly helped in that situation as well.

    >> the last problem, mary for me is, look, where do you draw the line, because then you can say we'll catch everything if we strip them completely naked. we're getting a pretty good picture. i can see the outline of the genitalia here and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. where do you go next, take off all your clothes because we're going to get a little safer.

    >> that's why we should be particularly angry with the government for not following their rules. this is like stripping someone's naked and without the person's identity. it becomes a fleeting imaround, they use it and discard it or for limited persons without the person's face or identity, they use it for trading or to save it until the end of the day when something happens. 9/11, the security tapes at dulles, proved to be incredibly good evidence and those are reuse federal nothing happens, the only airport that had them of the three major airports, so for this reason, this is the best we can do at a strip search without invading someone's privacy meaning their identity and their face is identified with their body, and now the marshall's department and the tsa have shaken our confidence.

    >> mary schiavo , thanks so much for joining us. appreciate it.

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