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08/18/2010

TSA Has A Good Body Image…and Is Keeping It On File.

No, I’m not talking about how one feels about oneself when they look in the mirror. I’m talking about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who is taking tens of thousands of full body images of travelers going through scanners at major airports. What do they do with all these choice images? That’s right. They keep them.

According to CNET.com, TSA has hoarded over 35,000 of these checkpoint body scans. And let’s be clear, they don’t need that many for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.”

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What else TSA might do with these images is entirely unclear. Privacy advocates are outraged, but clearly the real problem is the lack of transparency from TSA while American travelers are being examined down to the millimeter without ever knowing their images are being recorded, stored, or potentially used for any reason, innocuous or not. Even the despite the fact that these images are in all likelihood used anonymously, until that fact is known, TSA should not be allowed to use any image without consent.

Just like tissues collected from a medical procedure or any other similar circumstance where consumers of a large institution create by-product that can be used for teaching, research, or quality improvement, travelers have a right to have their images used or not for the benefit of improving airline safety. We give patients the right to make that similar decision to contribute to medical research, so too should travelers have such a choice.

Then and only then, with the appropriate consent and anonymity protections in place, could the storage and use of these scans be acceptable. Travelers, just like patients, have a right to know where their images are going, to whom and for what purpose.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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