Europe restricts use on some airport full-body scanners; TSA appears displeased

New European guidelines issued on Monday restrict 'backscatter' airport scanning machines in Europe over 'health and safety' concerns. The U.S. TSA is reportedly not pleased.

The European Commission has set out rules that seem to have irked the U.S. Transportation Security Agency (TSA), by restricting the use of certain full-body scanners that show body parts and identifiable imagery.

Any full-body scanning system used by border agencies must now obscure faces to protect individuals' identities, and border officials who view full-body images must do so from a separate room from the scanner, the Commission said on Monday.

But the Commission has consequentially caused problems for the border-sensitive TSA.

(Source: TSA)

While the European Commission said in a statement that security scanners are "not a panacea", it acknowledged that devices do offer reinforcement to passenger security.

But the TSA responded to what was a trans-Atlantic agreement, that those entering the United States as part of a transfer or as an ending destination, originating countries must enforce the same level of protection that the United States offers.

In a statement, the TSA highlighted that the government department "rigorously tests" its technology to ensure not only high detection but safety standards also.

The United States has two devices to scan passengers with: the 'Backscatter' device will no longer be allowed under European law, opting instead for the millimeter-wave scanner, which is understood to not pose any health effects.

Passengers will have the right to opt-out of a full-body scan under the new European legislation, but will undergo another form of physical search instead. Arguably, the alternative could be more physically invasive, privacy groups have warned.

Having said that, the U.S. has been known for 'giving but not taking', particularly in response to data protection principles that the European Commissions set out in 1995. U.S. companies operating in Europe must adhere to European regulatory rules when sending data outside of the European zone, or face strict penalties.

The EU is widely considered to have the strongest data protection laws in the world.

Many of these scanners virtually 'remove' the clothing of passengers, showing what appears to be a ghost-like naked body.

The Commission said that some security scanners will only be allowed should they:

"...not store, retain, copy, print or retrieve images. 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 should not be linked to the screened person and others. Passengers must be informed about conditions under which the security scanner control takes place."

Images of full-body screening will therefore be destroyed to reduce the privacy footprint of the machines.

As ZDNet UK reports, while some airports, such as Heathrow and Manchester in the UK use full-body scanners as part of a trial of the technology, even under new European rules, these machines will continue to be used until the trials are completed.