Power madness and paranoia – the UK Government and Body Scanners
UK 2010. Ex-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown and his New Labour government had outstayed their welcome by far. They were on their way out and if they didn’t know it, then they were even more delusional than I am about to accuse them.
Stop and Search under the Terrorism Act, arrest for photography in public places, the inclusion of vandalism as an act of terrorism under the Terrorism Act, empowering the police with detention without charge capabilities, non-violent organisations outlawed and labelled as terrorist, the right to gather in public rescinded, and of course, becoming the only country in the world arrogant enough to make full-body scanners at airports compulsory. Hardly British now, was it? Their actions appeared more like the infiltration of a foreign enemy intelligence agency than the fruit of home-grown politics.
I’ll leave you to speculate all you like about the rhyme and reason of their actions. I myself am going to give Brown and his boys the benefit of the doubt and suggest that they actually went insane with their three-terms of power, because looking at their record, and in particular their scanners plan, the alternative accusation might make you blush.
No strip-searches please, we’re British
Brown actually made a speech promoting Britishness to the Fabian Society in 2006. However, there was something foreign about the scanners coming to the UK. Here was a country whose citizens were famous the world over for getting all prudish and coy over nudity. Now everyone was potentially up for a good scanning, even the vicar’s wife… because the vicar’s wife could just be a suicide bomber, right?
Were they mad? You don’t think so yet?
Then there’s the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which of course the UK is signatory. I was curious to how the government would explain how the scanners plan wouldn’t violate key articles of the Declaration, such as
- Article 5, which protects from degrading treatment
- Article 11, which says that everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty
- Article 12, protecting privacy and honour
- Article 13, freedom of movement ( little difficult for Australians, for example, who refuse the scanner and are in turn are refused the right to board an aircraft at Heathrow or Manchester.)
- Article 18, which protects our right to practice religion (Muslims need to practice Haya (modesty). Orthodox Jews and Catholics also talk of modesty in their religious practice)
…so I put the question to the DfT. I was dumbfounded by their reply.
“As a UN Declaration, the UDHR is not legally binding.”
Now I knew that and was not enquiring about the legality of their scanners plan. What blew me away was their overly defensive attitude towards an internationally recognised standard which they not only were signed up to, but also frequently quoted whenever they needed an excuse to invade some poor second-world country. A rights declaration for others to adhere to, but not us, perhaps?
What is, occasionally ‘legally binding’ is The European Charter on Human Rights (ECHR) which has been incorporated into British law. Recognised by both British courts as well as the European Court of Human Rights, and includes such articles as:
- Article 3 – Protection from torture and degrading treatment
- Article 8 – Privacy (qualified right*)
- Article 9 – Conscience and Religion (qualified right*)
…and so on..
*Qualified right means that governments can adhere to the rules or not, depending on their mood that day. You or I do not have the right to bend the rules the same way, of course. Article 3 would need to be demonstrated in court as part of a law suit. Any takers? Not yet, I’m afraid (big thing taking on the UK government in a UK court).
According to the DfT, the risk to National Security totally justifies the rescinding of these rights. I’ll come back to the “threat” later on.
You still don’t think they went loco? Wait, there’s more.
Health and safety lunacy
All Brits know that the culture of health and safety in the workplace has been taken to paranoid extremes (to the point where you need to do a three-day training course, wear a harness and a helmet just climb the stairs). And here they were introducing machines that were using ionising radiation in spite of never having been tested for operational risks. I was confused by this and wrote to both the DfT and the Health and Safety Executive with Freedom of Information requests.
Question: What Radiation detection and protection will be given to airport security staff working in the vicinity?
DfT response: The Department requires airports to abide by the interim Code.
Interim Code says: The airport authority deploying the use of a body scanner must ensure that all appropriate local risk assessments have been conducted for the type of body scanners being deployed and that the equipment conforms to all relevant health and safety requirements.
That is to say that all responsibility has been left in the hands of private companies (airport operators).
Therefore, the answer to my question on radiation protection was: None whatsoever.
I put the same question to the Health and Safety Executive, who are responsible for enforcing health and safety legislation in public and work places. Now is when the buck begins to get seriously tossed around:
the main government department that is responsible for the safe introduction and use of full body scanners are the Department for Transport (DFT)
So, the HSE says the DfT is responsible and the DfT says “no, not us!”
Working alongside the Rapiscan Secure 1000 scanner at Heathrow and Manchester, security screeners are given no protection whatsoever, not even a dosimeter badge or a protective shield to stand behind. So, perhaps it’s not dangerous working alongside ionising radiation machines. Well, it’s no good asking the British government as they wouldn’t know:
Me: What specific tests have been carried out on the long-term effects of working with said scanning equipment?
DfT: “We do not hold information on specific tests on the long term effects of working with this equipment.” and on Millimetre Wave scanners “The government does not have a comparable assessment for millimetre wave scanners.”
In short, the UK government has implemented a compulsory process using potentially carcinogenic radiation without prior testing, without providing protection for workers, and without establishing responsibility.
Still not convinced that they lost the plot?
It’s been hard to ignore over the last 9 years. It’s al Qaeda, it’s Osama Bin Laden, they live in a cave inside a mountain on the Afghan/Pakistan border, they are highly trained and desperate to blow up planes! And every so often a loon comes along with all the terrifying technical skill and ability of Mr Bean and we end up losing another bunch of rights. Take the inept Richard Reid, for example. The one who led to us having to remove our shoes at airports. I just take one look at his dimwit features and I know that this man has never sat beside Bin Laden in a big swivel chair, stroking a fluffy white cat on his lap in a mountain hideaway. But the press hammered home his image as though he were part of a detailed genius plot to kill us all. Well, he wasn’t. He was little more than a dimwit with no knowledge of how to use the substance he was carrying in his shoes who had been carried away with Terror Fever on the TV and a few too many James Bond films.
But all that al Qaeda stuff is for the drama queens at the BBC. The government isn’t really concerned by the existence of a mythical bunch of suicide bombers who like to play on climbing frames in the desert. No, for the UK government there are bigger fish to fry in the scanners. It’s a threat so deadly and so frightening that I bet you couldn’t even imagen it in your own worst nightmares! Forget Bin Laden, the next big security threat, the next potential suicide bomber, the next big purveyor of all things evil is… us!
That’s right, WE are those who the UK government fears most on flights today. Earlier this year, in a review of counter-terrorism measures at UK airports, the UK Government cited Philip Baum, Aviation Security Lobbyist, claiming
“While body scanners can add another layer of security, they are appreciably slower than traditional archway metal detectors. To process every passenger through the equipment would therefore lead to long queues and increase the time passengers spend in airport terminals. Mr Baum told us that this is a problem in itself since it creates a target for suicide bombers within airport terminals and also creates “a lot of unhappy passengers who are perpetrating acts of air rage on board aircraft and they could one day bring down an aircraft“.
Let me get this straight: Fed up of having to arrive 3 hours before his flight, having to suffer paying twice as much for his luggage because his modestly-sized suitcase was 50 grams over the permitted amount, after having to throw away his toenail scissors and bottle of Evian, after having to wait an hour in a security line and shuffle shoeless holding his falling beltless trousers through a metal detector that beeps at the tiny metal studs on his jeans, after being offered no help whatsoever to fold his children’s pushchair and juggle his young children and all their paraphernalia, after being forced to open the baby food and taste it at the same time as opening up his lap-top to prove it isn’t a bomb AND then have himself and his family strip-searched with radiation… Joe Tourist on his way to his modest hotel in an overcrowded Costa del Sol might (according to the UK government), just might go over the edge and decide to convert himself in suicide terrorist!
That is what the UK government was saying. That was the context of the study.
Balmy, I’m sure you’ll agree.
But is this insanity catching? Following the victory of the Coalition Duo, Nick Clegg claimed to want to reverse the Orwellian trend in British society by pledging to abolish the national identity card scheme, biometric passports and the Contact Point children’s database, ensure CCTV was “properly regulated” and place restrictions on DNA storage, but he made no mention of airport security measures. Will he see the ridiculousness of full-body scanning at airports, or will he and Cameron suffer the same fate as their predecessors and go loopy with power?
I’ll leave you just one more heart-warming thought: let’s just imagine for one moment that there exists a person in this world with the determination and know-how to put together an explosive and who tries to take it on board a flight with the intention of killing himself and scores of others. So he goes to the airport, checks in, goes straight to the security line where he has to wait among hundreds of other travellers to be scanned in a machine that contains a radioactive isotope (Rapiscan Secure 1000). Eventually he arrives to the head of the queue and the security screeners lead him into the scanner. During the scanning, the explosives are detected….
What happens next?
The scanners programme is insane.
Scrap the Scanners