Who Really Benefits From Body Scanners?
Who really benefits from body scanners?
Do we, the passengers benefit from the peace of mind that a terrorist might be impeded by scanners? Do the airlines benefit from scanners, or the airports? Our governments and media may like pushing the idea that everyone is happy with electronic strip searches, but who is really calling for scanners to be deployed at all transport hubs?
The idea is that passengers are both protected from potential terrorist attacks and/or at least are reassured that their safety is being considered. In 2010, the BBC lauded the results of a survey that found that the majority of the flying public was in favour of the measure. But can we trust the results? What the BBC failed to mention was that the consulting company which carried out the survey, Unisys, had financial interests in the body scanner industry.
The UK Secretary for Transport, Justine Greening also claimed that most passengers were in favour of the scanners. Her claim was based on a survey carried out at Manchester airport by the airport’s own management. Anyone in Market Research will tell you that this would be an invalid study as the many of the same passengers questioned in the study would have already had to convince themselves that the scanners were OK in order to buy their ticket in the first place.
So, are passengers really reassured that the scanners have been put in place for their protection? The only ‘official’ UK survey into public opinion was the Department for Transport’s 2010/11 public consultation on the code of practice for body scanner use. That one came back with a startlingly different opinion – an estimated 80% against scanners. Greening, however, chose to ignore what the public wanted on this occasion and simply reiterated Manchester airport’s survey results.
And are passengers any safer with the scanners? Health issues aside, as the risk to health has never been adequately evaluated, there is always a risk to our fundamental rights when any new security measure is introduced, especially the right to privacy. But, as everyone knows, there must be a pros-and-cons balance between the risk to our rights and the risk of not having the security measure. The UK has continually exploited a loophole in European law which allows for “more stringent measures” to be adopted due to the government’s claim that their terrorist attack risk assessments come back as being a “high”. However, they have never published, or so much as hinted at what this risk may be or how they came to their conclusions, always citing “National Security” as the reason for their secrecy. Nonetheless, others put the risk of death through an international terrorist attack as being “hardly existential.”
We must also consider the practicalities of these security measures. From removing our shoes and belts, throwing away the expensive perfume and bottle of water, opening our laptops, tasting the baby food to demonstrate it is not a bomb, passing through a body scanner, having our phones swabbed for traces of explosives etc, etc., we are forming ever longer queues at airport security points. Heathrow has been advising passengers to arrive three hours before their flight ever since they introduced scanners due to the extra time it now takes to be screened before we enter the departure area. Passengers at Domodedovo airport in Moscow learned that all these time consuming checks can be fatal when 15 months ago a suicide terrorist with explosives strapped to his body killed himself and some 35 innocent airline passengers waiting to pass through security. That airport also has scanners.
So, if passengers are not benefitting from the scanners, what about the airlines?
Since the introduction of mass scanning at US airports began in 2010, followed by the new “enhanced pat-down” for those who opt out of the scanning process, the US airline industry has seen a massive drop in sales as travellers have taken President Obama’s advice and seek less intrusive means of transport.
Ryanair’s chief executive also has spoken out against the scanners claiming that the scanners do not improve security, but pander to the fears generated by politicians.
So, perhaps airport operators are seeing the benefit from scanning millions of their customers each year?
It is impossible to ignore that fact that Heathrow’s retail revenue has soared since the introduction of these “more stringent” security measures. Not only are sales of already overpriced liquid products such as drinks, perfumes, toiletries and alcohol undoubtedly rising due to not being permitted items at security points, but also during those three hours of waiting before a passenger’s flight, the constant marketing of food, souvenirs and luxury goods has seen a notable increase at the London airport as at all other airports.
But sales of Toblerones and ‘I love London’ t-shirts are not going to cut it for an operation as gargantuan as Heathrow.
Mike Fazackerley, the ex-head of security at Manchester airport, stated there would be great savings for airport operators that adopt scanners. He claimed that the scanners were neither more efficient than conventional pat downs, nor quicker, but he did allude to a saving through a reduction in staffing. Mr Fazackerley was, however, wrong. We estimate that each new scanner deployed at an airport would need between 3 and 6 extra members of staff per scanner. Added to that the fact that each scanner only has a limited useful lifespan of about five years before it needs to be replaced, and we are talking about a serious additional cost.
So far, no one is really benefitting from these scanners, are they?
There can be no doubt that 9/11 made a lot of millionaires into billionaires. Fear sells security systems far better than mere prudence, and according to the press and governments, the threat level never drops. There is always another looming threat around the corner and another medicine show of security solutions is thrust into the faces of leaders in every hotel lobby of every capital city.
The London CounterTerror Expo, for example has grown disproportionately to the apparent threat level in the 3 years since its first appearance in 2010, the number of exhibitors has grown from 250 to more than 800, all peddling the latest in scanning technology, detection and hidden recording equipment. From body scanners to iris scanners, facial recognition, puffer machines, etc., all proven to be flawed, all what the politicians refer to as a “layered approach to security”, and all what the American Association of Pilots refers to as nothing more than a “patchwork of band aids“.
So, the next time one of these inept loons boards a plane with something vaguely resembling a bomb in his underwear and all your rights are suddenly rescinded as yet another new gadget is introduced to strip you naked, ask yourself who really benefits. And ask yourself who could have had the resources, connections, motives to fund, train and put that idiot on the plane in the first place.