South Africans travelling through local airports are not likely to be subjected to “virtual strip searches” using full-body scanners any time soon, the Airports Company SA (ACSA) says.
The airports operator says it has no plans to buy pricey full-body scanners to x-ray passengers.
The US, Britain and The Netherlands are introducing the scanners in haste after a failed Christmas Day terror attack in which a Nigerian al-Qaeda operative tried to detonate explosives secreted in his underwear as his flight from Amsterdam was about to land in Detroit.
The explosive materials he used were undetected at security points.
“We are not considering full-body scanners at this stage. Full stop,” ACSA spokeswoman Nicky Knapp told the Independent Group newspapers.
The papers say Knapp was reacting to reports that the may lead to the scanners being implemented at local airports, especially ahead of the World Cup.
The scanners, which allow security staff to see objects beneath clothing, have caused controversy over privacy.
The images generated by the scans are realistic and allow operators to see a person’s gender and other intimate details.
The papers say the South African Civil Aviation Authority, which instructs ACSA on security, has confirmed receiving a directive from the US Transportation Security Administration to beef up security after the foiled plot.
“However, Knapp said the directive related more to the boarding and in-flight security measures implemented by the various airlines,” the papers say.
The French AFP news agency meanwhile reports that the British government earlier today said it was working to allay fears that the body scanners would break laws against creating indecent images of children.
Privacy campaigners told the Guardian that the images created by the machines were so graphic they amounted to “virtual strip searching” and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.
Terri Dowty, of civil rights group Action On Rights For Children, said the scanners could breach child protection laws, which made it illegal to create an indecent image or a “pseudo-image” of a child.
“They do not have the legal power to use full body scanners in this way,” she told the newspaper in comments published today.