No body scan opt-out at UK airports

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Passengers traveling through British airports will not be allowed to opt out of full body scans, the transport secretary has said.

Justine Greening says that giving travelers the alternative of a pat-down search would have an effect on security.

"The purpose of introducing security scanners in the first place was to protect the travelling public better against sophisticated terrorist threats," she says.

"These threats still exist and the required level of security is not achieved by permitting passengers to choose a less effective alternative."

Scanners were introduced at Heathrow and Manchester airports in February 2010, and at Gatwick airport a few months later. Greening said that consultation showed that passengers were happy with the scans, and that there have been only 12 refusals out of more than a million scans. As a result, she says, the government is planning to introduce them at more airports.

However, Greening's statement puts her at odds with the European Parliament, which recently ruled that passengers should be able to request an opt-out.

"Given the security arguments against permitting such an opt-out, and the threat level that exists in the UK, the government intends to use its powers under the Aviation Security Act to maintain the current position," says Greening.

"Those passengers selected for scanning will therefore not be able to fly if they are not willing to be scanned."

According to Greening, the government is working on software which automatically analyses images, so that they needn't be seen by human reviewers. Airports will also be required to undergo regular hardware and software tests to make sure that they can't copy, save, or otherwise transmit images.

Unsurprisingly, privacy organisations are outraged by the announcement.

"The government has accepted is an intrusion of privacy, as the statement states that in future, it is removing the role of security staff in this process when technology becomes available, which would appear to entrust our security to artificial intelligence, rather than human judgement," says Big Brother Watch.

"The Transport Secretary appears to be saying there is a problem, but that fixing it is too much for mere mortals and we will have to await the arrival of computers that can better detect threats."