By Vanessa Allen
Fears over airport security could leave millions of passengers facing the indignity of a ‘naked’ body scan and paying higher fares to fund it.
Hi-tech body scanners can see through clothes to detect hidden weapons or explosives such as those used in the failed Christmas Day plot.
They produce an anatomical image of passengers’ bodies, including breasts and genitalia, and have been attacked as too intrusive. Critics have described them as a ‘virtual strip search’.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the Government was looking at the use of the full body scanners, but admitted there were cost and privacy issues.
The scanners are on a year’s trial at Manchester Airport, where security officers have already been banned from using them on children following warnings that the images could break child pornography laws which outlaw the creation of images of youngsters.
The machines cost £80,000 each, meaning it would cost millions to install them in all
of Britain’s airports. Inevitably the cost would be handed on to passengers through higher air fares.
Dutch airport authorities said yesterday that they would make the new scanners mandatory after syringe bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board his flight from Amsterdam to Detroit without the explosive sewn into his underwear being detected.
Heightened security ordered by the U.S. in the wake of the failed bomb plot has
caused massive delays on both sides of the Atlantic, as airports struggle to cope with the new measures.
The machine performs a simultaneous front and back scan using electromagnetic waves, similar to a low-level X-ray.
The scans show every contour of the body, including intimate areas, and also reveal body piercings, colostomy bags, false limbs and even breast enlargements.
Airport security officers inspect the images in a separate office, away from the scanner, to reduce the potential embarrassment for passengers.
If the scan is clear the whole process should take around 20 seconds, and the image is then deleted. If security officers see anything suspect, the passenger is searched.
Officials have said the images cannot be stored or captured, but the scheme has led to fears that scans of celebrities could be leaked on to the internet.
Civil rights campaigners have expressed fears that the scans are too intrusive and could prove offensive, particularly for Muslim women. Security officers at Manchester have been warned not to scan under-18s over fears that the legislation could lead to them facing criminal charges.
In the scheme, passengers can opt not to have a full body scan and to go through a traditional metal detector and ‘pat-down’ search instead.
But critics have questioned how useful an ‘optional’ search is, and whether it would be feasible if the scanners are installed permanently.
The Home Secretary said the Government would weigh the privacy and cost issues against national security.