Airport Body Scanners could be illegal

Body Scanners were recently introduced at UK airports following an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow himself up on a flight to Detroit over the Christmas period. Since then the United States, Nigeria and a number of European Countries (including the Netherlands) have either installed the scanners or have said that they plan to do so in the near future.

However the use of the scanners has been controversial due to the near naked images they produce of subjects. Groups including the Equality and Human Rights Commission have said that the scanners ‘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 January 2010 the EHRC wrote to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, requesting justification for the government’s profiling and body scanning plans.

Letter to the Secretary of State

In a letter to Lord Adonis (the Secretary of State) on the 16th February the group said that it recognises the threat to the public from terrorist groups & the Government’s needs to take steps to protect the travelling public. However it ‘expressed concerns about the apparent absence of safeguards to ensure the body scanners are operated in a lawful, fair and non-discriminatory manner. It also has serious doubts that the decision to roll this out in all UK airports complies with the law.’

‘The Commission argues that the current use of body scanners, already in place at Heathrow and Manchester airports, may be breaking discrimination law as well as breaching passengers’ right to privacy. It calls on the Secretary of State to ensure that these concerns are addressed. The Home Secretary has indicated in the House of Commons that people will be selected on a random basis, but this has not been publicly endorsed by the Transport Secretary. The lack of transparency about how people will be chosen for body scanning means that it would be impossible for passengers to challenge why they’ve been selected. An absence of safeguards, such as monitoring who is being scanned and how those scans are carried out, means that authorities are unable to check if in practice people are being unfairly selected on the basis of their race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation or disability.’

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