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MEPs warn on 'virtual strip searches'

Old bodies, new scanners, new danger

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Members of the European Parliament have asked the Commission to look carefully at the privacy implications of millimetre wave scanners - which effectively produce naked pictures of passengers.

The technology has already been trialled in the UK - at Paddington railway station - but was found to be impractical and abandoned.

Although the technology can be used to peer beneath people's clothes, more recent incarnations, like the 12 ordered by the US Transport Safety Administration, work on an alarm system - a red light flashes or an alarm sounds if an unexpected object is detected beneath clothing.

But that hasn't stopped the MEPs getting into a tizzy about the fact that the machines could produce "scanned images of persons as if they were naked, equivalent to a virtual strip search." Yes, NAKED.

The MEPs have adopted a resolution on the technology, in which they say the Commission's draft measure "could exceed the implementing powers as the measures foreseen cannot be considered mere technical measures related to security, but have a serious impact on the fundamental rights of citizens. MEPs consider that the conditions for a decision have not yet been met, given that essential information is still lacking."

Philip Bradbourn, Tory MEP for the West Midlands, said: "This technology has the potential – and, I stress, the potential – to force air passengers to undergo what could be seen as undignifying treatment." Bradbourn noted that, as with rules on liquids in planes, what starts as exceptional measures can quickly become the norm for airport security.

MEPs asked the Commission to investigate privacy implications alongside the possible health impact of the technology, and an economic, commercial and cost-benefit analysis. Whether MEPs regard an actual strip search, or even a quick grope from a minimum-wage security monkey, as a worse invasion of privacy is not clear. ®

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