- By Region
Passengers will lose their right to fly if they refuse to pass through contentious body scanners at airports, the government announced on Monday.
Justine Greening, transport secretary, told MPs she wanted to see more airports use security scanners as a means of combating terrorism, although she acknowledged privacy and health concerns surrounding the devices.
Scanners were introduced in the US and the UK following the attempted 2009 Christmas day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, when a Nigerian tried to set fire to explosives hidden in his underwear.
Human rights organisations have raised objections to scanners, with Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission last year questioning whether the devices were in breach of the privacy provisions contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Scanners are used at Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester, and ministers plan to work with the aviation industry to extend their use to more UK airports.
Ms Greening said the government was against new European Union legislation that gives passengers the right to opt out of scanning when selected by airport security staff or randomly by computer.
“Those passengers selected for screening will therefore not be able to fly if they are not willing to be scanned,” she added.
She rejected the two main alternatives to scanning – pat down or full body searches – saying the former lacked effectiveness while the latter could be overly intrusive.
However, Ms Greening responded to privacy concerns about scanners by saying software was in development that would automatically analyse body images captured by the devices, and could end the need for airport security staff to review pictures.
She also sought to alleviate health concerns by citing research by the Health Protection Agency that found the dose of ionising radiation produced by scanners using X-ray technology was equivalent to that received naturally through two minutes flying at high altitude.
But the European Commission said last week that – in order not to jeopardise citizens’ health and safety – airports should use scanners that do not involve X-ray technology.
Manchester airport uses X-ray scanners, and the Commission has given it permission to extend a trial of such devices until next year while a review of the technology by independent scientists is carried out.
Heathrow airport has abandoned its use of X-ray scanners in favour of devices based on so-called millimetre wave technology. Gatwick uses the same technology.