Bodyscanners now in use at UK airports

Air passengers who refuse to submit to a full-body security scan at Heathrow and Manchester airports are to be barred from taking their flights.

The two British airports have started operating advanced imaging technology (AIT) scanners. Birmingham airport will follow suit later this month ahead of a national roll-out.

The move - strongly criticised by civil liberties campaigners who say the scanners are an invasion of privacy - follows the attempted Detroit bomb attack on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to detonate a bomb on a flight as it was about to land in the US city.

While only a small minority of travellers are expected to be asked to undergo the scans, those who decline will not be allowed to board their flight.

Transport Secretary Lord Adonis confirmed the move in a written parliamentary statement, saying the scanners would help security staff detect explosives or other dangerous items.

"In the immediate future, only a small proportion of airline passengers will be selected for scanning," he said. "If a passenger is selected for scanning and declines, they will not be permitted to fly."

Lord Adonis stressed that an interim code of practice on the use of body scanners stipulated that passengers would not be selected "on the basis of personal characteristics".

He said there would be a consultation on their use, but added that there was an immediate need to begin using them.

"Given the current security threat level, the government believes it essential to start introducing scanners immediately," he said. However I wish to consult widely on the long-term regime for their use, taking full account of the experience of the initial deployment."

Body scanners at Manchester airport will be confined initially to terminal 2, where they have been trialled since late last year. Additional scanners are planned for terminals 1 and 3 by the end of the month.

The airport said that its previous exemption for children had been overturned by the government.

Head of customer experience Sarah Barrett said passengers had "privacy concerns", but stressed that the airport had put in "strict procedures".

"It will enhance security for everyone, which can only be a good thing, without compromising people's privacy," she said. "The image generated by the body scanner cannot be stored or captured, nor can security officers viewing the images recognise people. Contrary to reports, the equipment does not allow security staff to see passengers naked."

But Alex Deane, a barrister and director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said such measures meant "the terrorists have won".

"People are understandably afraid of terrorism," he said. "But we didn't allow the IRA to impede our freedoms or change our way of life, and we shouldn't change now either. What kind of a free society does the government think it is 'protecting', when it invades our privacy like this?"

Manchester Airport has put information about the scanning process on its website:
www.manchesterairport.co.uk/manweb.nsf/Content/X-Ray-Scanners-Public-Information

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