Airports have been banned from installing full-body X-ray scanners by the European Commission due to health and safety reasons. Do you want to see the back of body scanners, or do you prefer them to a pat-down?
There are fears that the radiation released by X-ray scanners can increase the risk of cancer. Yet, the Health Protection Agency has said:
‘The radiation dose from an examination of two or three scans is less than that received from two minutes flying at cruising altitude.’
The EU has enforced the ban until a specialist health committee has finished assessing their risk. I can’t help but think that it would have been a good idea to do this before they were installed. Why are we allowing technology to make its way into airports when it hasn’t been fully and independently assessed for its safety?
Airport body scanners in Britain
The so-called ‘naked’ scanners, already trialled in Manchester and Heathrow airports, have been controversial for more than just health risks. Their propensity to invade passengers’ privacy has also been criticised since they produce a clear outline of your body. In fact, Heathrow scrapped their X-ray scanners due to such complaints.
Manchester Airport has 16 of these £80,000 scanners, and will ban anyone from flying unless they walk through one – a decision that has previously been backed by the Department of Transport. Indeed, hospital consultant Tony Aguirre was escorted out of Manchester Airport by police after refusing to walk through the scanner in July.
Manchester has been given permission to continue using its ‘backscatter X-ray scanners’ until November 2012 while tests are carried out.
An infringement of our privacy?
Of course, protecting us from terrorism and immediate danger is incredibly important, but I think a balance has to be made between protection, privacy and passenger’s long-term health.
But even if the European Commission’s tests do find that X-ray body scanners are relatively safe, would you still be concerned about the invasion of your privacy? Many are uncomfortable that they reveal your naked body and some Muslim groups claim it violates their religion.
The campaign group Big Brother Watch has long been against these compulsory scanners:
‘While we understand that security in airports is crucial to passenger safety and national security […] the willingness to sacrifice individual privacy for this security has gotten completely out of hand. Big Brother Watch has said on numerous occasions that these body scanners are invasive and compromise an individual’s privacy and dignity.’
Despite this, Which? members don’t seem overly concerned – around three quarters said they’d be interested in full-body scanners being introduced. I can see why – the alternative often means intrusive pat-downs, having to take off coats, belts and shoes, and almost never-ending queues before you even get to this stage.
There’s been many a time when I’ve been asked to strip off my belt, where I’ve promised myself to ‘go baggy’ whenever I next go on holiday. X-ray scanners can remove this inconvenience and speed up the process.
However, would you take this compromise if it came with a cost to your health (even if minimal)? We’ll have to wait and see what the European Commission’s tests uncover, but in the meantime, what kind of airport security would you prefer?