Airports using full body scanners are causing controversy in the US. But, as they start to be introduced over here, do you think they’re a necessary security measure or an infringement of civil liberties?
Airport security is a tricky issue. On the one hand we want to feel safe and confident in security measures.
On the other, we don’t want to wait in lengthy queues emptying our pockets, taking off coats and shoes. And we don’t want to be faced with aggressive security staff or feel like our civil liberties are being infringed.
How airport security stacks up
In October, the chairman of British Airways called for some airport security checks to be scrapped, saying it was unnecessary for all passengers to remove shoes or scan laptops separately. But just two days later there was a failed cargo bomb attack on two planes – one in the UK and one in Dubai.
When high profile incidents occur, reactionary security measures appear to follow. Having to remove our shoes, for instance, followed the shoe bomber plot in 2001 and restrictions on carrying liquids in hand luggage followed the liquid bomb plot in 2006. Managing these threats is a fine line for airports to tread and something which they’ve so far negotiated with varying degrees of success.
Take the full body scanners. These devices have been a source of much controversy, not least because they produce a clear outline of a person’s body. In addition, the Department of Transport has said that if you refuse to be scanned you’ll be prevented from flying.
The controversy of airport scanners
The public argument against the scanners is much more widespread in the US than in the UK, with many people condemning them as infringing individual privacy rights.
Canada’s privacy watchdog is currently assessing whether the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is doing enough to protect passenger privacy at the country’s airports following the use of full body scanners.
But aside from privacy concerns, US and UK pilots are equally concerned about the accumulative effect of radiation on frequent flyers. The US Allied Pilot Association has called for airline staff to be given the choice of either passing through the scanners or a traditional ‘pat down’ search.
And they may have cause for concern. Research by Columbia University’s Centre for Radiological Research found that radiation doses from the scanners may be up to 20 times higher than first estimated.
And, earlier this year the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety published a report saying air passengers should be made aware of the risks associated with body scanners. It also stated that pregnant women and small children shouldn’t be subjected to scanning even though the radiation dose is ‘extremely small’.
So why use body scanners?
Currently, full body scanners are used at Birmingham, Heathrow and Manchester airports but they’re likely to be introduced at more airports in the future. Although controversial, Which? members don’t appear to be overly concerned by having to use them. Almost three quarters said they would be happy for full-body scanners to be introduced.
So could body scanners be a boon for stress-free and efficient route through security? Some think so. At Manchester Airport, use of the scanners has reduced security screening times from two minutes to around 25 seconds per person. They’ve eliminated the need to remove coats, belts and shoes and, together with the introduction of automatic security processing gates (or SMART gates), have helped to save time.
Strict security measures have a clear part to play in ensuring our safety when flying, but should these measures be at the cost our civil liberties?