Senators demand answers on saved body scans and privacy protections

Senators said they were "disturbed" by reports that the U.S. Marshals Service has saved more than 35,000 body scan images from a Florida courthouse, according to a letter sent Friday.

"There is understandable concern, however, over the privacy protections in place for [full body scan] devices, as they are able to scan through clothing and capture detailed images of the bodies of those who are scanned," write Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Daniel Akaka (D-Ha.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.).

The letter comes in response to a recent report in the Orlando Sentinel that the U.S. Marshals Service stored the full body scan images from February to July of this year while guarding a federal courthouse in Orlando. The story quotes a supervisor who said the images are not stored for any specific purpose, prompting the senators to request a full explanation for why the images are being retained.

"This is a troubling response that suggests the U.S. Marshals Service has failed to fully appreciate the seriousness of the issue. The perception of whole body imaging scans differs greatly from that of security camera footage, and therefore demands a higher level of sensitivity to the legitimate privacy concerns of those being scanned."

The letter notes the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has adopted strict protocols prohibiting them from retaining body-scan images and requests the U.S. Marshals Service to consider adopting similar privacy protocols. The senators also ask the Marshals to identify any other locations where they store body-scan images and explain what its reasons are for retaining them.

The letter also points out TSA employs automatic target recognition software with all body scanners. This software automatically detects threats and resolves many of the privacy concerns raised by the the body scans by eliminating the need for a officials to view the images themselves.