Senators Want to Criminalize Distribution of TSA Body Scan Photos

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Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Nelson will introduce an amendment to a Federal Aviation Administration bill that would criminalize the use of TSA body scanner images.

The body scans essentially reveal the naked human body -- and created substantial controversy over the heavy holiday travel season. People have rightly pointed out that digital files have a strange way of making their way outside of their intended systems. Schumer and Nelson hope that criminalizing that behavior may make such leaks less likely and ease privacy concerns.

Under the legislation, the Security Screening Confidential Data Privacy Act, anyone who disseminates the body scan images could serve up to a year in jail and pay a $100,000 fine for every image.

It's co-sponsored 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.

A Schumer staffer told me that he expects the underlying FAA legislation to pass handily, but future of the amendment itself isn't as clear. Either way, I'd put my money against any penalties allaying the fears of those who are worried about the scans' impact on civil liberties.

Update 2:54pm: Added clarification to prospects for the FAA bill.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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