Britain Says No Opt Out Of Body Scans

November 21, 2011

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Passengers flying to and from the United Kingdom will not be able to opt out of having a body security scan, the country's transport secretary said on Monday.

Instead of a 'pat down' search, passengers will have to pass through a security scanner, a procedure which could be rolled out across the United Kingdom in the future, Transport Secretary Justine Greening said in a statement.

Proposals recently agreed by the European parliament include the right to request an opt-out from scanning.

"I do not believe that a pat down search is equivalent in security terms to a security scan," Greening said.

"The purpose of introducing security scanners in the first place was to protect the travelling public better against sophisticated terrorist threats: these threats still exist and the required level of security is not achieved by permitting passengers to choose a less effective alternative," she added.

Proposals to introduce body scanners in airports Europe-wide have been on the agenda since an attempted attack on a transAtlantic flight by a man hiding an explosive device in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009.

Following the incident, Britain introduced trial scanners at Manchester, Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

Greening said the development of new scanner software meant images captured by scanning machines would not be copied, saved, transmitted or viewed by human operators in the future.

She added that Britain would implement changes depending on how quickly new technology developed, but ruled out alternatives to scanners on security, operational and privacy grounds.

The British government launched a public consultation on the use of security scanners last year.

Feedback from the consultation released on Monday showed there were just 12 refusals out of more than one million scans.

Some people are concerned about potential health risks from ionising radiation from x-rays emitted by backscatter scans, which are used in some British airports.

Last year, experts from Britain's Health Protection Agency (HPA) conducted an assessment of the scanner at UK airports.

It found the dose of ionising radiation received from the scanners is the equivalent to that of flying at high altitude for two minutes.

The European Commission has called for further expert reviews of the potential health risks from security scanners and has asked the European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks to review any new 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," Greening said.