Privacy Group Loses Bid for Body Scanner Images
(CN) - The Transportation Security Administration does not have to turn over photos of full-body scans used at airports, a federal judge ruled, rejecting a civil liberties group's request because the images are used to train employees and could threaten the agency's security.
Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group that monitors federal activities, submitted two requests under the Freedom of Information Act to the Department of Homeland Security in 2009.
The organization wanted copies of contracts between TSA and Whole Body Imaging, the company that makes the scanners. It also requested documentation of data breeches, training materials and technical specifications for the scanners, along with "all unfiltered or unobscured images captured using body scanner technology."
Homeland Security transferred the requests to TSA, which is a component of the department, and ultimately gave the privacy group a number of documents, many of them redacted.
The department withheld 2,000 images captured by the scanners, saying they contain "various threat objects dispersed over the bodies," and that "any further release of images would constitute a threat of transportation security."
Electronic Privacy sued Homeland Security in November 2009.
The department defended itself using an exemption in the Freedom of Information Act that protects materials "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." The photos in question are used to train employees to recognize threatening objects passengers could store.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina, writing for the for the District of Columbia court, found in favor of the department.
The images Electronic Privacy requested "are so closely related to TSA's rule or practice that their disclosure could reveal the rule or practice itself," Urbina wrote, granting the agency's motion for summary judgment.