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New anonymity rule on Euro airport body scanners

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The European Commission has adopted new rules for the use of body scanners at airports.

From now on, any European Union country that wants to use the controversial technology with have to do so "under strict operational and technical conditions", the EC said in a statement.

"Security scanners are not a panacea but they do offer a real possibility to reinforce passenger security," Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said in the statement.

"It is still for each Member State or airport to decide whether or not to deploy security scanners, but these new rules ensure that where this new technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights."

Under the new legislation, security scanners can't store, copy, print or retrieve images and any unauthorised access and use of the image is prohibited: fairly rudimentary stuff. But interestingly, the regulations also stipulate that the person looking at the image should be in a separate location and the image and the person should not be linked in any way (presumably unless they do turn out to be a terrorist).

Passengers must be informed about the conditions under which the body scan is taking place, and they have the right to refuse to do it as long as they accept an alternative method of screening.

"By laying down specific operational conditions and by providing passengers with the possibility of opting out, the legislation safeguards fundamental rights and the principles recognised in particular by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union," the EC said.

X-ray doesn't mark the spot

On the technology side, the main concern for the EU is health and safety. The Commission's rules state that only security scanners that don't use X-ray tech are authorised for passenger screening.

"All other technologies, such as that used for mobiles phones and others, can be used provided that they comply with EU security standards," the Commission added.

EU countries including the UK, Finland, Germany and France have already been trialling body scanners, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the technology. The main concerns are the health and safety ones about being bombarded by X-rays or other radiation and the human rights ones about a camera that essentially takes a nude picture of passengers.

In July, America's Transport Security Administration made some concessions to those who objected to being photographed in the nip by rolling out a new software that presents a generic human form with any discovered objects on the actual person super-imposed, rather than that person's actual naked outline. ®

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