Full body scanners and child protection
The introduction of full body scanners at airports has been accelerated after the recent attempt to use an explosive device on an American airline. These devices have been trialled in the UK since as early as 2002 when QinetiQ conducted a pilot at Gatwick airport, and later at Eurotunnel Calais. This version of the technology uses radio waves, known as millimetre wave scanning, and is claimed to be harmless. The other type of scanner, the one being widely adopted, uses low levels of x-rays together with its reflection, or “backscatter”, together with imaging software to build a mono picture of the subject’s body, complete with guns, knives etc, but not with clothes – as shown in the picture.
The use of this technology raises a range of concerns. They range from the additional delays in security at airports to the privacy issues to the health aspects of frequent travellers being x-rayed several times a year. The additional delays at airports are likely to be accepted by most passengers who are already resigned to having to arrive at airports up to three hours before their flights.
More are likely to be concerned about images of their nude bodies being seen by security personnel. The protocols announced in the UK state that only a single person will see the images in a separate secure location and that the images will be immediately deleted from the system. They may be further assured that the software automatically blurs the individual’s face. However, the genitalia of the individual will be shown in full detail, as there are security concerns that to blur that area of the body would have an adverse effect on the security integrity of the system. One has to ask whether the nude images of so called celebrities, or individuals with gross physical deformities, will quickly find there way on to the internet or in to the papers.
A greater concern is the use of such technology with children. The use of this technology threatens to breach child protection legislation, which prohibits the creation of indecent images of children. The trials in Manchester airport exempted those under eighteen years of age. The UK government have announced that “legal and operational issues” were under discussion as part of the “gradual” introduction of the technology in the UK. This followed a warning from Terri Dowty, of Action for Rights of Children, that the scanners could breach the Protection of Children Act 1978, under which it is illegal to create an indecent image or a “pseudo-image” of a child. There are also concerns raised by the organisation Liberty as to whether the technology will be used as part of the profiling of passengers. Similar concerns are being raised around the world in the rush to use these scanners.