The introduction of body scanners at UK airports follows the attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow himself up on a flight to Detroit over the Christmas period. Since then the United States, a number of European Countries (including the Netherlands) and Nigeria have either installed the scanners or have said that they plan to do so in the near future. Security at UK airports is already tight, with travellers having to remove shoes at security checks and carry liquids in clear bags; however the move will tighten security still further.
In an announcement, Ronald K Noble, the Secretary General of Interpol argued that ‘better intelligence and information sharing between countries is required, rather than wide-scale body scanning technology’. He is also reported to have questioned the amount of money and resources that go into the machines, arguing that passport fraud is a bigger threat.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has also sent a letter to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, requesting justification for the introduction of body scanners, and a clarification of what the safeguards put in place will be. The groups has said that ‘ the proposals are likely to have a negative impact on privacy, especially in relation to certain groups such as disabled people, the elderly, children and the transgendered community’. In the letter to the Home Secretary the group said “The right to life is the ultimate human right and we support the government reviewing security in the light of recent alleged terrorist activity. However, the government needs to ensure that measures to protect this right also take into account the need to be proportionate in its counter-terrorism proposals and ensure that they are justified by evidence and effectiveness.\”
How do Body Scanners work?
Body Scanners are complex devices that detect non-metallic items and plastic / chemical explosives found strapped to people. The devices effectively replace the person who conducts the physical search at airport security (i.e. the chap who conducts the ‘pat down’). They find objects hidden on people that conventional metal detectors are unable to find.
There are two types of body scanner, the Backscatter Machine & the Millimeter Wave Machine. Backscatter Wave Machines use X-rays to create two dimensional images of the body. Millimeter Wave Machines send use radio waves to produce a three dimensional image of the body by measuring the energy reflected back to the machine.
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