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Disgrace and Debacle – Euro Scanners

November 20, 2011

After more than 3 years of to and fro in Brussels, we finally have common rules on body scanners. In 2008 the parliament voted against European Commission proposals to legislate scanner use within the EU. MEPs were horrified at the thought of such contempt for fundamental rights and refused to back the EC. Barroso’s boys were not to be undermined this time round and chose to circumvent regular parliamentary process and push through their law via a new Comitology process so not to let Democratically elected members in on the plan. MEPs could have voted down the EC’s bill, but as it was presented over the summer, most were on holiday.

On the surface the law, which comes into effect on the 1stof December, is not so bad as it bans

Manchester airport peep show

backscatter scanners (x ray) and gives a choice to passengers to opt for a frisk instead of a scan. The reason for the ban on x ray scans quoted by Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport was health concerns. A recent study in the US concluded that up to 100 people per year could die from cancer as a result of these scanners in the US. A better kill rate by far than al Qaeda, I’m sure you will agree!

However, it seems that the British are not as prone to cancer as the rest of Europe because, dangerous or not, Manchester and Heathrow airports have been granted special permission by the EC to continue trials with this potentially carcinogenic technology.

Either the technology is dangerous or it is not. The EC decided to allow Manchester to extend their scanners trial yet again only 2 days before they published the new rules on scanners, enabling MAN to keep their 16 £180 machines. Manchester security providers, including OCS (office cleaning contractor doing airport security), seem pretty unhappy about the new rules and latest reports from MAN are that elderly passengers are being forced get up from their wheelchairs and stand in the scanners.

Speaking of Manchester airport security, where scan selections are said by the DfT to be ‘random’, I recently read an interesting interview with their head of security in which it was admitted that scanning is no faster than frisking passengers and no more effective, and that the airport operators look to make huge financial savings from using scanners rather than trained security professionals. Another curio of this interview was his explanation of the ‘beep’ of the metal detector. It seems that the metal detector arches at MAN are set to beep automatically every few passengers whether the person is carrying a metallic item or not. That person is then led over to the body scanner. Now, if for example, the metal detector automatically ‘beeps’ every fourth passenger and then that person is scanned as part of their so-called ‘random’ screening process, the system can only ever reach a maximum of ¼ efficient. If it’s every second passenger, then it will only be 50% efficient, and that is before we have even taken into account the effectiveness of the technology or if the viewer of the image.

Airport security has become a joke in the UK:

  • We no longer have trained professionals evaluating risk, we have cleaning companies.
  • We have nonsensical security procedures that actually reduce real security rather than increase it.
  • We are killing more people through cancer by using the scanners than we are saving from terrorists.
  • The UK government is allowing anyone to enter the country and deliberately switching off terrorist watch-list procedures.

I’m putting money on backscatter scanners being widely deployed around all Olympic events next year. I’m also betting that the EC’s health risk evaluation, which they have only just initiated, will come back next March with favourable results for the scanner industry.

Sam Edi

Scrap the Scanners

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