22 Oct 2008

Europe considers X-ray scans at airports

9:53 pm on 22 October 2008

Plans to introduce scanning machines at airports which will let security guards see beneath passengers' clothing are being challenged at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

The EU's executive says it will speed up checking-in, as passengers will not have to be searched. But critics say the scan is an affront to a traveller's dignity.

The European Commission insists the proposals are at an early stage and would not be mandatory.

But there are nonetheless concerns among some in the European Parliament about the effect the scanners could have on human rights, data protection and personal dignity.

The images, while not quite of photo quality, do not leave much to the imagination.

For most people, airport security staff would likely get to know you rather better than you might like.

'Ill-conceived plan'

"This measure is unnecessary, unjustified and invasive," said Bairbre de Brun, an Irish Sinn Fein Member of the European Parliament.

"The commission has brought forward this plan without assessing the impact on fundamental rights or human health or even if they are cost-efficient. This is an ill-conceived plan."

The European Commission says it is precisely its role to ensure the scanners are not unnecessarily invasive - by drawing up a rule book for how the devices, which are already used in a limited capacity by some airports, must be operated.

Where the technology is currently available, air security officials can pick out individuals to stand in a booth while three pictures are taken of the person in slightly different positions.

Within seconds, an X-ray scanner produces an image of the body. What shows up is the naked human form and anything that may be concealed, such as coins, a gun or drugs.

A European Commission spokesman told the BBC that a wider roll-out of the technology would not only enhance safety and security, but would also have the potential to speed up the check-in process, as passengers would not need to be searched by security officials.

But concerns remain that the safeguards remain vague, and that Members of the European Parliament have not been sufficiently consulted.