European Commission calls for body scanner safeguards

While scanners may be necessary for security, common safeguards for rights, health and body scanner efficacy must be established, according to the European Commission

The European Commission has called for common safeguards and standards for body scanners at the continent's airports.

The scanners, which have been criticised by human rights groups for allowing security operators to view passengers as though they are naked, must conform to European human rights legislation, the Commisssion said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Security scanners are being used by an increasing number of member states across the EU, but at the moment their use falls outside the scope of EU law, so they are used in member states in different ways," said vice president Siim Kallas, who is responsible for transport. "Where this scanning technology is used, it should be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as common safeguards to ensure compliance with EU health and fundamental rights provisions."

Full-body scanners are being brought into use at various European airports. UK airports Heathrow and Gatwick use the scanners, which have also been trialled in Manchester. They were brought in after the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of flight NW253 from Amsterdam to Detroit by 'underpants bomber' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

The UK Department for Transport (DfT) told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that it welcomed a pan-European approach to body scanners.

"The UK has been calling for a review of how best the European baseline standards can respond to current and new threats and we welcome this report on the use of security scanners," said a DfT spokesperson. "This report will now form the basis of further discussion between member states before deciding how best to proceed."

The new government position on body scanners will be very similar to that of the old government, ZDNet UK understands. Cuts to public spending will not affect the implementation of body scanners in UK airports, as it is the carriers and ultimately the passengers who pay for the scanners.

Campaign group Privacy International told ZDNet UK on Wednesday that pan-European standards on body scanners could help maintain European civil rights.

"It's gratifying to see Europe take a position on this," said Privacy International director Simon Davies, who added that UK privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office had yet to issue guidance on the use of body scanners.

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