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Airport scanner staff object to vetting

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Security staff at Heathrow airport are reportedly furious at the suggestion that any of them would ever use pics taken from the new body scanners for lewd or lascivious purposes.

Their reaction was reported last week in Skyport, a newspaper that carries news and features for those working at Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports.

Following the failure of the Christmas Day "pants bomber" plot, the government announced plans to introduce full body scanners in airports across the UK. Critics hit back by warning that staff could use the scanners to collect images of children – or naked adults.

One security guard interviewed by Skyport told the paper: "The idea that we are going to get kicks out of seeing a blurry grey image of people’s bodies is frankly offensive.

"Its about as sensible as saying the act of patting down a passenger is perverted. We are here to do a job. We have bombs and knives on our minds and that’s it."

El Reg did try to obtain a slightly more official response on this thorny issue, as it does appear that neither staff nor unions involved in this affair appear quite to "get it".

Speaking in the Commons earlier this month, Paul Clark, an Under-Secretary with the Department of Transport said: "The introduction of the scanners is a necessary additional measure in response to the heightened threat to the travelling public.

"Their application to passengers, including children, with the proposed safeguards as to their use, is a proportionate response to the heightened threat. The use of body scanners is compatible with the Protection of Children Act 1978. The use of scanners will be subject to a code of practice which is being developed by the Department for Transport and airport operators."

This is all well and good, but does avoid the issue: the main concerns that have been raised are in respect of the new Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which places a clear duty on employers and employees who have frequent contact with vulnerable individuals - adults as well as children – to be vetted by the new Independent Safeguarding Authority.

Failure to be vetted is a criminal offence, risking hefty penalties for employer and employee alike.

The range of duties that those operating scanners – as well as those frisking passengers – are asked to carry out would seem likely to fall within the remit of this Act.

We asked those responsible for management at Heathrow whether they planned to have their staff vetted in this way. They ducked, claiming that this was a matter for the Department for Transport (DfT), who were in the process of writing new guidelines.

We asked the DfT, whose initial response was to talk about security vetting, and who appear to have been unaware of the concept of vetting being applied in this sense. We are still awaiting a further response from them addressing this issue.

Finally, we raised the matter with Unite, the Trade Union that represents staff working on body scanners. They, too, have still to get back to us.

For now, the impression left is that none of the key players in this proposed initiative have seriously considered the implications of vetting, despite the experiences of millions of workers in the caring professions. Furthermore, the attitude of staff suggests a disdain for the process that many in nursing, teaching and social work might wish was allowed to them. ®

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