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Airport rethinks strip-scanner for kids

Nudity no longer mandatory for under-18s

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Manchester Airport will be taking legal advice on proposals to send children through its new X-ray scanners.

This is a change from its position, reported in The Register yesterday, that they did not believe the images created by the new scanning technology (the slightly unfortunately named Rapiscan) would fall foul of child pornography laws, because they use X-rays and therefore "they do not make an image".

A spokesman for Manchester airports talked to El Reg this morning. "Our view is that it does not break the law," he told us. "However, since a number of people have been in touch and pointed out that there might be a problem, we have ourselves been in touch with charities working in this area to take further advice.

"We have spoken to Shy Keenan, co-founder of Phoenix Chief Advocates, which works with child abuse survivors. She agreed that this was a difficult area and that there might be an issue.

"As far as Manchester airport is concerned, we are not in the business of endangering children - our only interest is in making sure all passengers get on the plane safely. We will abide by the advice given by experts in this area."

The problem is that the practice of scanning – and checking - children brings together in one activity several of society’s current obsessions and moral panics.

On the one hand, in order to protect children from the prying eye of paedophiles, the Protection of Children Act 1978 (pdf) makes it a strict liability offence to "make" an indecent image of a child. Indecency is not defined absolutely in law – that is a matter for a jury to decide. However, the lowest level of "indecency" would not even require nudity, but could consist solely of images deemed to consider "sexual posing".

"Making", in law, can cover the simple action of downloading an image from the internet on to a PC.

For most effective use of Rapiscan technology, subjects are likely to be required to keep their legs slightly apart and raise their arms in a near-salute – a pose that devotees of a certain form of NSFW art may well recognise as potentially pornographic.

However, it is likely that the authorities would firmly resist arguments to the effect that sensitivity over child-related issues must lead to a softening of counter-terror measures when it comes to searching children. In law, a child is any individual under the age of 18, and in many theatres of terrorist activity, 16 and 17-year-olds have proven more than old enough to be active participants – while younger children can be used for concealment.

Thus, despite public objections to the searching of chldren, the Met has steadfastly asserted its right to continue to do so.

If children are not scanned at Manchester Airport, they will be frisked in full view of parents and other staff. All Manchester security staff are security and CRB-checked to the highest level. ®

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