22nd Oct 2020

Germany ditches body scanners after repeat false alerts

  • The EU has approved the use of naked imagery (Photo: Flickr/RuckSackKruemel)

The German interior ministry has decided to postpone a plan to roll out body scanners at airports for security reasons, after a trial phase showed that the devices are incapable of distinguishing armpit sweat from concealed bombs.

Two trial machines installed at Hamburg airport returned false alerts at a rate of 49 percent. The errors included confusing sweaty armpits with concealed bomb chemicals. "The ministry has decided that the software must be improved," a statement from interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich read on Wednesday.

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Unlike metal detectors, the advantage of the US-made full body scanners is supposed to lie with the ability to detect plastic or ceramic elements concealed under clothing. Similar devices are being used in the US, Great Britain and the Netherlands.

But human rights groups, the European Parliament and religious organisations have been outraged at the use of such technology, which in the initial stage portrayed a real outline of one's bodily features. They are also expensive, costing over €130,000 a piece. The European Parliament itself has six machines which have never been used.

"The federal police will closely support development in this field so that hopefully devices will soon be available that meet our high safety standards and take passenger volume into account," Friedrich said.

Last year, Italy also decided to scale back its body-scanners plan, citing similar experiences in the trial phase.

Meanwhile, a vote in the European Parliament's transport committee on Wednesday outraged the Liberal group, as it failed to oppose a wording in the technical specifications for EU-wide rules on body scanners. The rules, carved out by the European Commission, do not specifically rule out the use of naked imagery.

"The rules do exclude the use of x-ray technology, which is something we wanted. But it doesn't oblige producers to use stick figures instead of the actual body image," Benjamin Krieger, a spokesman for the German Liberals in the European Parliament told this website.

Concerns remain in EU over 'nude' airport scanners

The Christmas Day airline bomb plot in the US has renewed calls for body scanners to be introduced in EU airports, but concerns over privacy and effectiveness continue to stand in the way.

Commissioner favours EU rules on body scanners

The EU commission will produce a report on the impact of body scanners on health, privacy and security in April, based on which a decision will be taken to introduce EU-wide rules on their use, transport commissioner Siim Kallas told MEPs on Wednesday.

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