Thursday, January 7, 2010

The debate over privacy concerns likely to impede body scanners in Europe

Britain's government wants to quickly deploy full body scanners at U.K. airports to fight an expanded terrorist threat. Amsterdam's Schipol Airport plan a major expansion for use to screen U.S.-bound flights. In Germany, officials said the scanners would only be considered once privacy concerns are resolved. In France, lawmakers discussed the scanners in 2008, but the idea of deploying them was dropped after privacy concerns were also raised.

The issues range from general rights of adults to fears that children may be exploited. Some say the machines cannot be allowed because they can clearly show a child's genitalia when a boy or girl walks through the airport scanners

Privacy campaigners and children's rights groups say the technology, now being tested at Manchester Airport, violates British and European law by producing sexually explicit images of children.

Ian Dowty, UK legal adviser to Action on Rights for Children, said he believes it would be a criminal offense to operate the scanners or to direct anyone to operate them if they are used to produce images of children under the age of 18.

"If anything produces an indecent image of anyone under 18, that is unlawful and is in fact a criminal offense," he said. "As we've seen on the Internet, these machines clearly show genitalia that in our view must result in an indecent image by any definition."

Others, including a British lawmaker, have said the machine would not have been useful in spotting the explosives intended for use over Detroit. "The machines amount to little more than gimmickry, and the government is going to face a huge legal obstacle," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "It can't identify a substance, it can only identify an abnormality, and the rest of it is human judgment."

At Amsterdam's Schipol Airport the scanners in use there differ from the ones being tested in Britain, and officials say they are being fitted with software that addresses privacy concerns by projecting a stylized human figure onto the computer screen rather than using the actual body image of the person being scanned.

So, the question remains will the privacy issue slow down or deter the use of full body scanners or will airports revert to the profiling system used effectively in Israel……Because it is quite clear privacy concerns and fears that children and adults may be exploited seem likely to slow the plan.

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