In an op-ed for USA Today, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the controversial body scanners:
Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.
(Emphasis mine.) The last part, at least, is not true. In fact, the TSA requires its machines to have the capability to retain and export images. According to the TSA, that capability is used only for training, and is disabled before the machines are delivered to airports.
Should we believe them? Well, there’s good reason for skepticism. The US Marshals Service has admitted that it surreptitiously saved tens of thousands of body scanner images. Frankly, the Marshals Service is a much more professional operation than the TSA. Moreover, the fact that the Secretary is (at least) misleading the public about the capabilities of its technology does not inspire confidence.
All of this might be tolerable if the machines and the pat-downs were stopping terrorists, but there’s no reason to believe that. As Glenn Reynolds puts it, the whole process is security theater, not security.