Great news: TSA body scanners actually saving photos of passengers' junk

Let’s see. On the one hand, the scanners are a useful tool in detecting the sort of explosives smuggled onto Flight 253 by Abdulmutallab, and therefore a valuable weapon in the war on terror. Which of course is why Napolitano is expanding their use. On the other hand, airline passengers are understandably self-conscious about dangling their goods in front of the local TSA screener but perhaps willing to do so in the interest of not being blown up in mid-air. Our dilemma: What can we do to freak out the public to the point where they’ll demand that the scanners no longer be used, thereby imperiling everyone?

Good ol’ DHS. Always quick with a solution.

The U.S. Marshals Service admitted this week that it had surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of images recorded with a millimeter wave system at the security checkpoint of a single Florida courthouse.

This follows an earlier disclosure (PDF) by the TSA that it requires all airport body scanners it purchases to be able to store and transmit images for “testing, training, and evaluation purposes.” The agency says, however, that those capabilities are not normally activated when the devices are installed at airports…

William Bordley, an associate general counsel with the Marshals Service, acknowledged in the letter that “approximately 35,314 images…have been stored on the Brijot Gen2 machine” used in the Orlando, Fla. federal courthouse. In addition, Bordley wrote, a Millivision machine was tested in the Washington, D.C. federal courthouse but it was sent back to the manufacturer, which now apparently possesses the image database…

A 70-page document (PDF) showing the TSA’s procurement specifications, classified as “sensitive security information,” says that in some modes the scanner must “allow exporting of image data in real time” and provide a mechanism for “high-speed transfer of image data” over the network. (It also says that image filters will “protect the identity, modesty, and privacy of the passenger.”)

The only reason I can think of to save the images is to preserve evidence in case the TSA screener on duty … utterly fails to detect the hidden explosives in the image and the suspect somehow makes it onto the plane. Is that what this is about — making sure prosecutors have something to show the jury in case some jihadi actually makes it past the checkpoint and is subdued during the flight? Obviously you don’t need the image if you nab the guy during the pre-flight screening since you’ll recover the actual explosives themselves. What the sam hill is going on here?

Update: Speak of the devil…

Update: To clarify, obviously you don’t need the images if the guy’s subdued during the flight either. But having them would prove whether he brought the explosives onboard himself versus whether they were planted there by some other party. Is that what this is about? It can’t be.