27/05/2011 How should body scanners be used in airports?

In 2008, the European Parliament was opposed to installing body scanner in airports. This is no longer the position of TRAN (the parliament’s transport committee) which met on Tuesday May 24th. The committee announced that it was in favour of adding body scanners to the list of methods permitted within the EU to check air passengers.

The text was approved by a large majority (37 in favour, 2 against and 3 abstentions) which pleased the rapporteur, Spanish conservative Luis de Grandes Pascual. “Now, four years later, with the evolution of the technology of the scanners, we have agreed that they offer a clear added-value in terms of security without risks to passengers' health or doubts on the respect of its fundamental rights”, he said.

The transport committee is insisting on “strict safeguards” attached to their use. They must not be harmful to passengers’ health. The approved text bans, in particular, so-called ‘backscatter’ x-ray scanners which emit potentially carcinogenic ionising radiation.

The report also emphasises the importance of respecting privacy stating that “only stick figures should be used” and “no body images may be produced” according to MEPs. Furthermore, the technology used cannot allow data to be stored or saved. Despite these measures, German conservative MEP, Markus Ferber (substitute member of the committee) remains sceptical. In his opinion, body scanners are an attack on the private lives of citizens and have no added value with regard to security.

Fundamental rights, a major source of concern, will not be compromised according to the text. Passengers must be able to refuse body scanning and undergo an alternative method of inspection. In addition, the selection of passengers must remain randomised. At least, this is what the committee wants but Mr. Pascual admits on behalf of the committee that refusing to be checked by a scanner could complicate or delay passenger boarding.

The text also calls on Member States to strengthen controls on air freight and to set up international coordination with regard to air safety. Lastly, the committee “restate[d] their view that the ban on carrying liquids on planes should be lifted by 2013.“

The text is expected to be voted on in plenary at the Brussels mini-session on June 23rd. The European Commission is also expected to state its position on the issue this summer.

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