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European Union opts for full-body scanners at airports

Siim Kallas

The European Union’s Transport Commission adopted new rules for security scanners at European airports aimed at controlling “strict operational and technical conditions” and privacy for passengers.

The group opted to use full-body scanners and not metal detectors in the new rules that would replace the patchwork of different national operational procedures, said the EU’s Vice-President Siim Kallas, who is the commissioner responsible for transport in a statement on Nov. 14. It also adopted many of the same privacy precautions used by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, including separated scanning personnel and “opt-out” provisions.

Also, it said, in order not to risk citizens' health and safety, only security scanners that do not use X-ray technology can be used at EU airports.

The group said EU member states have been trialing or testing security scanners, since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to blow up a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 with plastic explosives hidden in his underwear. The scanners had faced wide-spread public resistance because of privacy concerns. The scanners had been implemented in a patchwork of airports, including the United Kingdom and The Netherland, as well as tested in France, Italy and some other countries. After testing two full-body scanners at its airport in Hamburg, Germany said in September it would not use them.

“As a common EU-wide framework, the new legislation legally allows Member States and airports to replace current security systems with security scanners,” said the EU statement on Nov. 11. “It also ensures the uniform application of security rules at all airports and provides strict and mandatory safeguards to ensure compliance with fundamental rights and the protection of health,” it said.

 The new rules don’t mean that EU member states and airports are obligated to deploy security scanners, but if they decide to use them, they have to comply with the operational conditions and performance standards set at European level, it said.

"Security scanners are not a panacea but they do offer a real possibility to reinforce passenger security,” said Kallas. “Security scanners are a valuable alternative to existing screening methods and are very efficient in detecting both metallic and non-metallic objects,” he said. “It is still for each member state or airport to decide whether or not to deploy security scanners, but these new rules ensure that where this new technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights,” he said. “Experience to date shows that passengers and staff generally see security scanners as a convenient method of screening."

The EU committee said that security scanners are an effective method of screening passengers, capable of detecting metallic and non-metallic items carried on a person. The scanner technology is developing rapidly and has the potential to significantly reduce the need for manual searches ("pat-downs") applied to passengers, crews and airport staff, it said.

Under the new EU legislation, security scanners wouldn’t be allowed to store, retain, copy, print or retrieve images and access to the machines would have to be authorized. As with U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s practice,the EU commission requires the human viewer analyzing images from the scanners to be in a separate location and the images on screen won’t be linked to the screened person. The TSA is moving away from this practice as it rolls out Advanced Target Recognition (ATR) software that uses a generic outline of a human body on video displays at the scan site and not the more detailed images from people themselves . EU rules, like TSA’s, would require that passengers be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place, and be given the right to opt out from a control with scanners and be subject to an alternative method of screening.


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