By Stephen O’Farrell and Bruno Waterfield
Irish airports to install ’strip search’ scanners
EU plans to roll out digital body scanners at Irish airports within two years were described as “Orwellian” last night.
The millimetre wave imaging scanners are to be used to provide a “virtual strip search” of travellers under “defined conditions”, a draft European Commission regulation states.
The regulation — which would be binding on all EU countries, including Ireland — could be passed into law by the end of April 2010.
Fine Gael’s transport spokesman, Fergus O’Dowd, said the measures were further evidence that we were headed for a nanny state.
“The best word to describe this is Orwellian,” he said.
“The problem with any 3D scan is that it will show up the unique characteristics of the human body that really are nobody’s business.”
The new technology, which creates an image of an unclothed body, was tested on a voluntary basis at Heathrow’s Terminal 4, but the trial has now been discontinued. Air passengers scanned by the new technology walk into a large booth where electromagnetic waves are beamed on to their body to create a virtual three-dimensional “naked” image from reflected energy.
Many travellers have been alarmed by the graphic nature of the black and white images body scanners generate — including revealing outlines of genitalia — raising concerns about privacy.
Gareth Crossman, the director of policy at the British human rights organisation Liberty, said: “I don’t think people are aware of what these scanners can do and how demeaning it is to have your body on display. Heathrow was right to discontinue their use and they should not be used in Britain except as an alternative to strip searches.”
Tony Bunyan, the editor of the civil liberties publication Statewatch, fears that Brussels is rushing to follow the US by introducing a technology that could subject “women, old people and children to such a shameful and undignified experience”.
He added: “It would appear that this is yet another case of ‘if it is technologically possible it should be used’ without any consideration of proportionality, privacy and civil liberties.”
Paolo Costa, the chairman of the European Parliament’s transport committee, is concerned over the safety of the new technology and how “nude” images of passengers will be viewed, then stored, by security officials.
“What will the impact of the use of body scanners be on passenger health? What will the impact be on passenger privacy?” he asked in a letter to the commission last week.