Senate votes to make it a felony to distribute body scan images

The Senate voted Tuesday to make it a felony to illegally photograph, record, and distribute images captured by the controversial new body scan machines at U.S. airports and federal buildings.

In a 98 to 0 vote, the Senate approved an amendment sponsored by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.). It was attached to the Federal Aviation Administration authorization bill which is expected to easily clear the Senate later this week.

Nelson offered the amendment in response to widespread complaints from travelers that broke out over the holiday season over the scanners, which are capable of providing graphic images of the human body.

The controversy was exacerbated in November when the technology blog 'Gizmodo' obtained and published 100 of 35,000 images U.S. Marshals had stored in a Florida Federal courthouse.

Many travelers saw the images as a gross violation of privacy. There were also complaints about searches by Transportation Security Administration workers that some said were invasive.

Administration officials have said the precautions are necessary to prevent terrorism in the wake of the so-called “underwear” bomber who allegedly tried to set off explosives hidden beneath his clothes on a flight to Detroit during the 2009 Christmas season.

Nelson said he agreed using technology to look for hidden weapons was necessary, but that there should be safeguards to protect privacy.

“Using technology to scan individuals for hidden weapons is a necessary – albeit sometimes unpleasant—aspect of making sure our airways and public buildings are safe,” Senator Nelson said in a speech on the Senate floor.

“However, in the scope of doing such things, safeguards can be put in place to help deter individuals from collecting and using those images inappropriately—and this is the goal of the amendment I and my colleagues are proposing.”

The amendment imposes penalties of up to one year in federal prison and $100,000 fine per image for violators.

The amendment is subject to 60-vote threshold.