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Monday, February 1, 2010

A Special Report by an Anonymous Author: The rights of air travellers: the right to privacy or the right to safety?

Known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) scanners, the attempted attack on Christmas day by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has reconfirmed the need for increased security in airports. While some may view the security measures in place as sufficient, clearly they are not. The question, however, arises as to the thin line between assuring passenger safety and safeguarded personal privacy rights. Passengers using Heathrow and Manchester airports, soon Birmingham as well, have been told that from now on they will not be allowed to board their flights if they refuse to submit to full-body scans. The American Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will also be utilizing this technology, which only takes 15-30 per scan.  

I can understand how some may view this as infringement on their personal rights as I too was weary at first. As a young lady, the thought of stepping through a scanner which provides a clear image of my body was not pleasing to say the least. The thought of people standing around viewing my person was rather humiliating.

However, upon further consideration and research, I discovered that people will be selected at random for these scans, just as you can be selected for a random baggage or body check. There are two types of scanners on trial: 1) “backscatter” technology which is conducted with low level x-rays and 2) “millimetre wave” technology which uses radio waves to create a 3-D image. If you are considered “suspect,” secondary screening will involve chemical swabs to test for explosives.

The system uses a pair of security officers. The one working the machine never sees the image, which appears on a computer screen behind closed doors elsewhere; and the remotely located officer who sees the image never sees the passenger. As further protection, a passenger’s face is blurred and the image as a whole “resembles a fuzzy negative,” said TSA’s officials. The officers monitoring images aren’t allowed to bring cameras, cell phones or any recording device into the room, and the computers have been programmed so they have “zero storage capability” and images are “automatically deleted”.

I do understand the concerns that people have that this infringes on their rights as prescribed by the Human Rights Act, however I think we can all agree that the right to safety is foremost. I believe it is the right of every passenger to have the highest security assurance and if you disagree, then perhaps air travel is not for you. Personally, I would rather step through a scanner, pretend nothing is happening, and go merrily on my way to my destination then sit on the flight worrying the someone on my plane is sitting there with an explosive device in his/her underpants. Read more here.

*In reference to concerns that these images will breach The Protection of Children Act of 1978, people are required to be 18 and over, until this issue is resolved.

*To those worried about the potential physical harm of these scanners, I am not certain whether there is difference between them and the many scanners/detectors that we already have to pass through.


The Rights Times said...

According to The Guardian, the equality watchdog has written to the home secretary to express concern that airport body scanners risk breaching an individual’s right to privacy.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission is calling on the government to set out its justification for the scanners, which Gordon Brown has said will be gradually introduced at British airports following the attempt to blow up a plane over the US on Christmas Day. The EHRC says the proposals are likely to have a negative impact on privacy, especially for disabled people, elderly people, children and transgender people.
The commission has written to the home secretary, Alan Johnson, to clarify what safeguards will be put in place to protect passengers.

It also wants to see the evidence for the profiling of travellers in the context of selecting people to be scanned. Equal rights campaigners have aired concerns that the process will lead to discrimination against people on the grounds of race, ethnicity of religion.

John Wadham, group director legal at the EHRC, said: "The commission fully accepts the government's responsibility to protect the safety and security of air travellers. The right to life is the ultimate human right and we support the government reviewing security in the light of recent alleged terrorist activity.
"However, the government needs to ensure that measures to protect this right also take into account the need to be proportionate in its counter-terrorism proposals and ensure that they are justified by evidence and effectiveness."

Although I definitely understand why this has happened, and I can say that perhaps the body scanners to cross over one’s rights, I do think they were established with our security in mind. In this case, I think security trumps human rights.

To read article see here:

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