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Page last updated at 12:46 GMT, Tuesday, 16 February 2010
The Heathrow airport "naked" body scanner dilemma
By Heather Driscoll-Woodford
BBC Surrey

Airport body scan
The scans see through clothing and show the outline of the body

Scanners that produce a "naked" image of airline passengers have caused great debate since being introduced in 2010.

The machines were first tested at Heathrow Airport in 2004 and are now part of the routine security procedure, scanning randomly selected passengers.

Now the Equality and Human Rights Commission has warned their use may be unlawful.

But does the need for tighter airport security outweigh any concerns passengers may feel about the scans?

Policeman at Heathrow Airport
Security has always been a priority at Heathrow Airport

Having been designed for comfort rather than speed, I have a little more padding than some better toned members of the population.

And while I'd like to be more "streamlined", I go from day to day in the happy knowledge that most people, apart from my husband, my doctor and the dog, are never going to see my lumpy bits.

I'm not in the habit of whipping my clothes off in public. I have never had the desire to post naked photos of myself on the internet or inside telephone boxes, or anywhere else for that matter.

So it does make me feel slightly uncomfortable to know that security staff at Heathrow Airport will be subjected to the image, albeit fuzzy and blue, of me in the altogether.

To be honest, I don't know who I feel more sorry for.

Me, for suffering the initial embarrassment. Or the airport folk for having to view the blushing, mishapen "naked" person on their computer screen.

The scanners were introduced in response to the alleged attempt to blow up an American plane on Christmas Day. But they have been in operation, as part of trials, at Heathrow for six years.

The government has been accused of "pressing ahead with the use of body scanners without addressing any of the privacy concerns and safeguard issues" by the Liberal Democrats.

Body scanner
The £80,000 full body scanners produce "naked" images of passengers.
The body scanners work by beaming electromagnetic waves on to passengers while they stand, fully clothed, in a booth.
A virtual three-dimensional image is created from the reflected energy.
Ben Wallace, ex-employee at QinetiQ, one of the companies making the technology said the scanners would probably not have detected the failed Detroit plane plot of Christmas Day.

And the Equality and Human Rights Commission is writing a letter to Transport Secretary Lord Adonis warning the scanners could be breaking discrimination laws as well as breaching passengers' rights to privacy.

But should this matter? For me, a nervous flyer at the best of times, not being blown up wins hands down over any embarrassment I might feel.

When I get on a plane I want to know that everything possible has been done to ensure my safety.

And that I can be pretty certain my neighbouring passengers aren't going to try and bring the plane down with explosives they have hidden in their pop socks.

And if that means I have to run round the concourse of Terminal three, ten minutes prior to departure, arms outstretched, making aeroplane noises, wearing nothing but my passport and a big smile, I'd do it.

Well, that may be a little extreme but you get the idea.

I don't like the thought of being scanned but it seems it will become a necessary part of the trip, if I want to travel by plane, in the future.

After all, should I really be more concerned about a scan revealing any wobbly bits to a total stranger, than the safety of my fellow passengers?

The Department for Transport said it had published a staff code of practice for the scanners.

I take it that sniggering and pointing, or inviting colleagues to crowd round for a look at the funny picture, is included under the "DO NOT" section of this code, as a matter of course.

And that there is not a "Print later to show my mates in the pub" button anywhere on the scanner key pad.

While I sure there is a certain novelty value attached to seeing ghostly images of naked blue people, I can imagine it soon withers when you've seen a whole plane load of them.

In the end, it all comes down to trust.

We put our faith in the airport security staff to keep us safe, as we take to the skies.

And up until now, they have done a pretty good job of it in the UK.

So should we not just let them get on with it and do whatever it takes to ensure our continued safety?


How do you feel about the airport body scanners? Will scanning passengers make you feel safer? Should a scan before flying become compulsory? Would you object to being scanned by airport staff? Are you worried the technology could be open to abuse? Email me at surrey@bbc.co.uk with your views.

It's wrong. A violation to privacy and human rights. Ethically wrong and anti-religious. Some may be comfortable being naked in public but many still have shame. The latter are completely disregarded in this matter. NO ONE CONCEALING A WEAPON WILL STEP INTO THAT MACHINE. Should a scan before flying become compulsory? NO. Would you object to being scanned by airport staff? YES - It's wrong. A search is fine and x-ray machines are fine. This machine reveals genitals. In what law is that ok? Are you worried the technology could be open to abuse? YES

Abdullah Patel

How do you feel about the airport body scanners? - WELCOMED. Will scanning passengers make you feel safer? - YES BOTH AS A POTENTIAL PASSENGER & AS SOMEONE ON THE GROUND Should a scan before flying become compulsory? - YES
Would you object to being scanned by airport staff? - NO
Are you worried the technology could be open to abuse? - POTENTIAL SAFETY BENEFITS OUTWEIGH ANY SMALL RISK OF ABUSE

Equality and Human Rights Commission & OTHERS OF A LIKE MIND should get a better perspective of the overriding need for safety.

Graham Norton

Let's be sensible here - what are the choices - safety or sensitivity? I would go for safety every time. Sadly we have to put up with these intrusions into our privacy. We should stop moaning about it and get on with it.

Sarah Litchfield

Yes we should have checks in place to limit access to this technology and it's use, but what would the commission prefer, to run the risk of someone getting a bomb onto their flight?

This kind of lightweight rights and privacy stuff was probably fine 20 years ago, but the world has changed and these petty sensitivities play into the hands of potential terrorists.

Paul Rowley, Bisley

Security scaled up at UK airports
05 Jan 10 |  Politics


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