The use of full-body scanners at British airports may breach human rights laws, the country’s equality commission said today, potentially undermining the latest weapon against terrorism.
The new technology has been hurriedly introduced at London’s Heathrow airport and Manchester airport in northern England after a botched attempt to bomb a US-bound passenger aircraft from Amsterdam on Christmas Day.
Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is alleged to have boarded a US aircraft on December 25 with explosives hidden undetected in his underwear.
The full-body scanners, which see through clothes to produce an image of the whole body, might have detected the explosives, experts have said.
Rights campaigners have said they fear an invasion of privacy and disproportionate scrutiny of Muslim travellers.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said the scanners might be breaking discrimination and privacy laws, and it had “serious doubts that the decision to roll this (body scanning) out in all UK airports complies with the law.”
The Commission said one of the chief concerns was over how people would be selected for the scans.
In a letter to Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis, the EHRC expressed concern “about the apparent absence of safeguards to ensure the body scanners are operated in a lawful, fair and non-discriminatory manner”.
The Transport Department said it was committed to ensuring that all security measures are used legally, proportionately and in a non-discriminatory way.
It said it was “absolutely clear that those passengers who are randomly selected for screening will not be chosen because of any personal characteristics”, and that it had published an interim code of practice which addressed privacy concerns.