Europe lays down airport rules for full-body scans

Europe lays down airport rules for full-body scans

Summary: Body scanners will still show people as if they were naked, but their faces will be blurred, under rules adopted by the European Commission that aim to protect travellers' privacy

TOPICS: Security

The European Commission has set out rules for the use in European airports of full-body scanners that show body parts.

Airport body scanner

The European Commission has laid down the rules for the use of full-body scanners in European airports. Image credit: John Wild

Any full-body scan systems used by border agencies must blur faces, and security staff who view full-body images must do this from a room separate from the scanner, the Commission said on Monday. It adopted the rules, which will become a framework for legislation, after debate in the European Parliament.

"The European Parliament doesn't mind body parts, but facial images must be blurred," European Commission transport spokeswoman Helen Kearns told ZDNet UK. "The reviewer will be in a separate room to reduce inappropriate behaviour."

In addition, scanned images should be destroyed, the Commission said in a statement. The idea is to reduce the privacy impact of the systems, which show an image of the person as if they were naked.

"Security scanners shall not store, retain, copy, print or retrieve images," the Commission said in describing the rules. "Any unauthorised access and use of the image is prohibited and shall be prevented; the human reviewer analysing the image shall be in a separate location and the image shall not be linked to the screened person and others. Passengers must be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place."

The use of stick images was considered by the European Parliament. However, the lawmakers decided too few companies produce scanners that deliver only a representation of a human body, rather than a rendering of one. This could have led to a lack of competition to provide the technology, Kearns said.

Passengers will have the right to opt out of a full-body scan and undergo some other form of search instead, under EU legislation.

Some airports in EU countries, such as Heathrow and Manchester in the UK, are already using full-body scanners in trials of the technology. They will be allowed to continue their method of operation of the scanners, even if this does not conform to the new rules, until the trials have been completed, said Kearns. After that, they will need to comply. The Department for Transport had not responded at the time of writing to a query as to when UK trials will be completed.

Existing full-body scanners were brought in after the attempted bombing on Christmas Day 2009 of flight NW253 from Amsterdam to Detroit by 'underpants bomber' Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. They have come under criticism from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which argues they could break UK laws on discrimination, race relations and privacy.

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Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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