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20th Sep 2021

EU and US to increase airport security

  • Europe has agreed to put in place tougher security measures (Photo: Flickr/Mr. Wright)

EU and US interior ministers agreed on Thursday (21 January) to step up airport screening of passengers, increase onboard security and to improve data sharing after a failed attack last month on a US-bound flight departing from Amsterdam.

Recognising their "shared responsibility" for preventing terrorist attacks on civil flights, ministers pledged to come up by April with concrete proposals on enhancing their security both on the ground and in the air.

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US home affairs chief Janet Napolitano said co-operation needed to be strengthened in the area of data collection, analysis and sharing, improvement of aviation standards and deployment of better screening technology.

The EU commission has been mandated to speed up its evaluation of a Europe-wide roll out of body scanners, an issue which is still controversial for several member states and lawmakers concerned with privacy rights.

Justice commissioner Jacques Barrot said a report will be soon published on the effectiveness of this technology, as well as its potential impact on health and its compatibility with individual rights.

Ms Napolitano said the use of scanners "is not the deciding factor nor essential for guaranteeing safety," although the US considers them as useful. It already has 40 up and running and plans to put 450 more in operation during this year.

Great Britain and the Netherlands also have this technology in place, while France and Italy are carrying out feasibility tests. Others may follow suit: Germany, initially quite sceptical of these devices, now says it could reach a decision by mid-2010.

"It is not a question of acting under pressure, it is a question of national and European security," German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere said, as quoted by AFP.

Air marshals, already operating on some US flights, could be introduced in Europe as well, DPA reports.

"Obviously, we are looking at the possibility of posting people on board (passenger flights) to maintain security," Mr Barrot told journalists in Toledo.

EU countries could also share passengers data among themselves, not only with the US, as is currently the case with the Passenger name record (PNR) system. Under a deal signed in 2007, EU airlines operating trans-Atlantic flights have to forward their PNR data to the US security authorities, but they do not have to share data systematically with the security services in EU states.

The set up is "as if a terrorist could not fly from London Heathrow to Madrid Barajas," Spanish interior minister Alfredo Rubalcaba said.

The informal meeting hosted by the Spanish EU presidency comes one month after a Nigerian man linked to Al Qaeda tried to detonate a bomb aboard a US bound airliner which took off from Amsterdam.

European security flops continued earlier this month, with a Slovak test in which one randomly planted plastic bomb failed to be identified by airport officials in Bratislava and landed together with an unknowing passenger in Dublin.

Irish officials were informed only three days later that the man was part of an unconventional security test.

On Wednesday, Munich's airport temporarily closed after a man's laptop computer set off alarms that indicated explosives might be present. The incident caused a series of flight cancellations and delays.

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