update Passengers heading in and out of Australia's international airports will be facing random screenings via new body scanners set to be deployed around the country from July, with the government insisting that passenger privacy and safety is at the top of the list when it comes to the new technology.
A millimetre-wave scanner shows a stick figure outlined with areas of interest highlighted in yellow.
(Credit: Department of Infrastructure and Transport)
Millimetre-wave body scanners will be deployed in all of Australia's international terminals from the middle of the year, as part of the government's $200 million push to make the skies safer.
Unlike controversial scanners used by the Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) in the United States, however, the new scanners headed for Aussie shores display a screened passenger as a stick figure, with no discernible features visible. This means that men, women and children will all show up the same, with only metal and some non-metal areas highlighted.
The scanners have the sign-off from the privacy commissioner, and they won't store any of the images, destroying them immediately in order to protect privacy.
The government has also addressed potential health concerns raised by the scanners, comparing the amount of radiation absorbed from the scanners to that of "passive exposure to a mobile phone used several metres away". However, this may come as cold comfort, if recent research from the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the cancer-causing effects of radiation is to be believed.
While passengers will be randomly selected for the new scanners at launch in July, the government said that as time goes on, the Office of Transport Security may incorporate the equipment into the standard-screening regime for passengers, with those objecting to the scanners for any reason other than a verifiable medical condition to be unable to board their flight.
Despite this proposed no-scan, no-fly policy, the government has no plans to deploy the scanners at the country's domestic airports.
The office of the minister for Infrastructure and Transportation told ZDNet Australia that the scanners will be looking for items that can slip through conventional metal detectors, like ceramic knives and other makeshift, non-conventional weaponry.
The scanners were trialled by the Department of Infrastructure and Transport prior to launch, in tandem with a trial of x-ray-scanning technology by the Customs and Border Protection Service. Unlike the millimetre-wave scanners, the customs trial was an opt-in screening, triggered only if customs agents had a high suspicion of passengers carrying drugs internally.
Updated at 2:25pm, 7 February 2012: incorrectly attributed new airport screening methods to the Customs and Border Protection Service. The agency carrying out the scans will be the Office of Transport Security.