16th Jun 2019

Concerns remain in EU over 'nude' airport scanners

  • Schiphol airport: keen to introduce mandatory scanning as soon as possible (Photo: afagen)

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.

Authorities at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands, where the would-be bomber boarded his flight with explosives packed in his underwear, plan to make body scans mandatory folowing a green light from the EU institutions.

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"We think that the [EU] parliament in the next round will approve the body scanners," Schiphol Group chief operating officer Ad Rutten said this week in the wake of the US incident.

The British government also promised a tough reaction. "We intend to be at the cutting edge of all this new technology and to ensure that we put it in place as quickly as possible," home secretary Alan Johnson said.

Body scanners use x-rays or microwaves to produce images that show any concealed parcels but which also reveal the passengers' intimate bodily curves to security staff.

Firms that produce the technology - which costs over €70,000 per unit compared to €10,000 for an ordinary metal detector - saw their share value rise by over 10 percent following the US scare.

Some EU airports, including Schiphol and Heathrow, already offer passengers the choice of using a scanner as an alternative to a physical pat-down. But uptake of the technology remains at an experimental stage due to concerns over privacy rights.

The European Commission late last year withdrew a proposal to roll out body scanners across the EU after MEPs compared the process to a "virtual strip search" and called for a detailed impact assessment study, which remains ongoing.

The European Parliament itself mothballed six scanner units designed to improve security at its Brussels and Strasbourg buildings following the decision.

Senior politicians in Germany, which last year criticised the commission plan as "nonsense," remain sceptical about scanners despite the fresh concerns raised by the US plot.

"The attempted attack is not a reason for us to change security laws," Wolfgang Bosbach, the head of the German parliament's Internal Affairs Committee told Berliner Zeitung.

Rainer Wendt, the head of the German police union, the DPolG, told the same paper that full body scans would be going "too far" in terms of privacy violations, despite innovations which blur the details of passengers' bodies on the screen.

Security experts said the US attacker came so close to success because intelligence agencies failed to communicate information acoss international borders rather than due to poor security standards at airports.

A number of analysts have also noted that overcrowding and poor pay for security officials at air terminals shoud be addressed more urgently than buying new machines.

"Cheap flights are at the expense of security. Airport operators and airlines often work for minimal wages and save on personnel," Konrad Freiberg, the chairman of the GdP police union in Germany told the Passauer Neue Presse daily.

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