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Despite EU Ban, UK Makes Radiation-Firing Body Scanners Compulsory

Backscatter machines remain in use. No “opt out” option. ‘No scan, no fly’ policy intact

Steve Watson
November 21, 2011

Despite EU Ban, UK Makes Radiation Firing Body Scanners Compulsory A full body scanner trial 006

In spite of the European Commission formally adopting new limits on airport body scanners and outright banning backscatter x-ray scanners pending further studies, the UK will not allow passengers to “opt out” if they are selected to go through the machines, which will remain in use.

Citing a non specific “security threat” to Britain, The transport secretary, Justine Greening, announced in a Commons statement that there would be no pat down option available to fliers, despite an EU mandate for the provision to be introduced.

“I have considered this carefully. However, I have decided against it, on security, operational and privacy grounds. I do not believe that a ‘pat down’ search is equivalent in security terms to a security scan.” Greening states.

“Those passengers selected for scanning will therefore not be able to fly if they are not willing to be scanned,” Greening writes, adding that the ruling would be imposed through powers under the Aviation Security Act.

“I am aware that the proposals recently agreed by the European Parliament include the right for passengers to request an opt out from scanning.” Greening writes. “The UK did not support these proposals when they were presented to the aviation security committee.” she adds.

Greening also said that the use of radiation-firing scanners at some British airports will not be banned despite the European commission concerns about possible links to cancer.

“The ways in which security scanners can be deployed have been restricted by European legislation.” the minister’s statement reads.

“My predecessor asked the Transport Commissioner to bring forward proposals which relax these restrictions, and allow scanners to be used more flexibly. An outline package which would achieve this was presented to the European Aviation Security Committee in July and has now been agreed by the European Parliament.”

The European Commission’s newly adopted guidelines prohibit the use of scanners utilizing ionizing radiation in European airports, noting that “In order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety, only security scanners which do not use X-ray technology are added to the list of authorized methods for passenger screening at EU airports.”

“Passengers must be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place. In addition, passengers are given the right to opt out from a control with scanners and be subject to an alternative method of screening.” the Commission’s press release also states.

In continuing to allow the use of the backscatter devices and refusing to allow passengers to opt out, the UK government will be altogether flouting the guidelines.

Backscatter scanners have been in use at three of the UK’s major airports since early 2010. The European Commission’s safety report is due around March/April time next year. A final decision on permanent deployment of the scanners throughout Europe will then be made.

Transport secretary Greening comments “The European Commission has called for further expert consideration of the potential health risks from security scanners and has asked the European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks to review the evidence. I look forward to the Committee’s report and will consider it carefully before making decisions about which technologies should be deployed at UK airports in future.”

Noting that “in principle” she advocates a widespread rollout of body scanners in the UK, Greening admits that government research found that most people “expressed discomfort with the idea of having an image of their body captured for analysis, and they indicated that – if selected for a security scan – they would prefer to opt for an alternative method of screening.”

Despite this, the minister suggests that the public “would be unlikely to opt for this alternative” if they “fully understood” the pat down procedure.

Greening also claims that the government consultation on scanners found that practically every passenger asked to go through the machines accepted the use of them. The minister claims that out of over one million scans undertaken since the introduction of the machines, there were only 12 refusals in total.

It is highly likely that this figure is accurate given that a refusal to scan translates into an instant government ban on flying.

Furthermore, a new survey undertaken by leading online independent travel agent, found that the majority of Brits would rather risk their health than see the x-ray scanners banned.

When asked ‘Do you think airport ‘strip-search’ scanners should be banned, in light of the cancer risks they could pose?’ a majority, 67%, said ‘no’. They were then asked to explain their reason for this decision, to which 54% said they would rather ‘risk their health and travel safe’, whilst a fifth, 22%, said they didn’t believe the health risks.

Furthermore, 46% of the respondents polled said they would like to see the security body scanners installed in all major UK airports. Of these, 38% said they did have concerns about their own privacy when it came to the scanners, but they’d rather everyone had to be checked.

Perhaps it should be pointed out, once more, to the British public that aviation security experts and even the designers of the machines have warned that they are incapable of detecting explosives and do little if anything to improve airline security.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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