How digital strip searches got fast tracked…
Back in 2002 when biometric ID cards were first being suggested by UK politicians many of those of us that opposed their introduction pointed out that fingerprinting is associated with criminal suspects and that treating citizens like criminals is unacceptable in a free society. Now the proposed digital strip searching of airline passengers in the UK raises similar concerns. The UK government is suggesting that passengers should stand with their hands up and submit to a scanning technology that reveals their naked body to airport security staff. If the public submits to this demand and accepts this technology then it raises serious concerns about people’s understanding of what privacy and freedom are and will not bode well for the future. It is up to the people of this country to take a stand and to say no to digital strip searches.
The pants incident
The current media hype around airport security has been sparked after an incident in the US on Christmas Day 2009. Please note that because the repeated mentioning of such events simply serves to stoke the climate of fear that is used to push through illiberal “security” policies, we will describe the incident just this once and refer to it hereafter as “the pants incident”. On 25th December 2009 Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23 year old Nigerian passenger boarded a flight from Amsterdam to the United States. It is alleged that Abdulmutallab had concealed nearly 3oz of powder Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate (PETN), Tracetone Triperoxide (TATP) and other ingredients in his underpants. It is alleged that shortly prior to landing Abdulmutallab tried to detonate the ingredients causing a small fire to break out. The plane landed safely in Detroit.
The UK government announces roll out of naked scanners
On 5th January the UK Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced the government’s intention to install naked scanners (referred to as ‘body scanners’ to play down their capabilities) in UK airports . Johnson said:
The first scanners will be deployed in around three weeks at Heathrow. Over time, they will be introduced more widely, and we will be requiring all UK airports to introduce explosive trace detection equipment by the end of the year.
Johnson claimed that the naked scanners were a necessary response to the pants incident and most of the ensuing debate centred around whether the government could get the scanners in quick enough. Johnson described the security measures used in the House of Commons and hinted at the use of technologies such as behavioural CCTV (for example see the ADABTS project ) when he said: “Every day, sniffer dogs come into the Chamber, looking for PETN. Behavioural detection is another method”.
The UK government does not see any need to introduce primary legislation or debate widespread introduction of naked cameras but will instead produce “a code of practice dealing with the operational and privacy issues involved”.
So would naked scanners have exposed the pants?
When asked if naked scanners would have detected the small quantity of explosives involved in the pants incident even Johnson, who was trying to big up this illiberal hi-tech toy, couldn’t say more than:
the indications are that given where the PETN was placed, there would have been a 50 to 60 per cent. chance of its being detected.
Many experts do not agree, the Independent newspaper reported :
Scanners can certainly pick up metal objects including knives, but whether they could have detected powder plastic explosive such as the 3oz of PETN is extremely doubtful. The kind of explosive Abdulmutallab used was low-density and so probably wouldn’t have shown up on the scanner.
The question which did not get asked was whether subjecting law abiding citizens to digital strip searches that most likely would not have detected the offending ingredients in a passenger’s pants in a single incident that was handled perfectly well by fellow passengers and led to no injuries, is a proportionate response to an extremely rare event (the full details of which have yet to be confirmed).
The US political commentary website FiveThirtyEight did some back of the envelope calculations on the odds of being aboard a plane involved in such a rare event, they guestimated that “the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000.” 
Security expert Bruce Schneier studied the way in which our society increasingly is led by fear (‘The Psychology of Security’, Bruce Schneier 2007 ). Schneier points out that people exaggerate risks that are spectacular, rare and talked about but downplay risks that are pedestrian, common and not discussed. Being scared affects judgement and when combined with biases there are a number of reasons why the brain is going to respond irrationally to risks exaggerated by the media and politicians.
What are naked scanners?
Naked scanners are machines that look beneath the clothes of a person effectively producing images of a digital strip search. There are two main types of naked scanner, millimeter wave machine scanners and backscatter scanners. Backscatter scanners use two low-level X-rays taken within twenty seconds – the theory is that foreign objects will reflect the rays and be visible in the scan. Millimeter wave scanners emit radio waves that pass through your clothing and return with images of your body underneath – these produce the most revealing images. Millimeter wave technology is also used in the ‘Active Denial System’ – a heat ray gun that has been devloped for the United States Military .
Naked scanners knee-jerk?
The introduction of naked scanners has been described as a knee-jerk reaction by many critics but in fact they have been on the agenda for some time. UK defence contractor QinetiQ conducted a trial of a prototype naked scanner at Gatwick airport in 2002 , and trials took place at Heathrow airport in 2004, at Paddington railway station in 2006, Canary Wharf tube station in 2007 and Manchester airport in 2009. In August 2009 the UK Government published an ‘Ideas and innovation’ booklet  to accompany their ‘CONTEST’ counter terrorism strategy which called on industry and academia to find ways to: “screen people less intrusively (for example scan people without requiring the removal of clothing or other belongings)”. In a 20th January Parliamentary debate Prime Minister Gordon Brown made much of increases in science expenditure and how the Security Minister, Lord West, in the CONTEST booklet has asked companies to work on developing new measures and new technologies that can deal with the detection of bombs hidden in body cavities.
The European level
[ Note: Decision making in the European Union (EU) can be difficult to follow as it is split between the Council of Ministers, the European Commission, the European Parliament and the national parliaments under procedures amended by the Lisbon Treaty - (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Lisbon) which was supposed to make things simpler! ]
In 2008 the EU Commission published a draft regulation that called for naked scanners in all European airports by 2010! The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force as the constitution of Europe on 1st December 2009 (though we’re not supposed to use the c word) amends the Treaty of the European Union , Article 2 of which now states:
The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.
The Commission would be hard pushed to find a measure that showed less respect for human dignity than naked scanners and a debate in the European Parliament in October 2008  showed that many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) agreed, as they voted against rubber stamping the Commission’s intentions.
Italian MEP Giusto Catania said:
The body scanner is the last frontier in this modern torture, as Stefano Rodotà describes it. The mania for extracting ever more information that could be useful in the fight against terrorism is fostering an authoritarian interpretation of the rule of law.
The control mechanism of a ‘mass-surveillance prison’ is being developed within society, so that all citizens are gradually being transformed into suspects who need to be monitored.
UK MEP Philip Bradbourn said:
If we are to justify this to our citizens, we first need to know why it is needed at all. Are we heading down the route of using more technology just for the sake that that technology is available, and also, what extent will the technology be used for? I can understand that, in some cases, this should be a secondary measure, where an individual chooses not to be, as we say, frisked by a security official. But as a primary screening measure it is a very serious breach of our basic rights to privacy and is intrusive.
On the issue of compulsion German MEP Eva Lichtenberger said:
We are told that everything is, of course, on a voluntary basis. Yes, this is not the first time we have been told such things. Anyone who refuses to fall in with the system would be under suspicion from the outset. The next step will be its compulsory introduction. As for the next step after that, I dread to think what it might be.
MEPs passed a resolution asking the Commission to clarify issues such as the impact on human rights, the impact on passengers health, under what circumstances an individual would be able to refuse a naked scan and to make sure that a wider, transparent and open debate involving passengers, stakeholders and institutions take place.
The Commission responded by launching a “short consultation” that ran from 27th November 2008 to Friday 19th December 2008 (then extended until 19th February 2009), but then I expect we all knew about that because it was a wide and transparent debate that was promoted extensively by the UK government and media, wasn’t it? Then it appears the Commission went to sleep – until the pants incident.
The Spanish government (holder of the presidency of the Council of Ministers) is seeking a harmonised EU approach to the use of naked scanners at European airports  and was set to discuss the issue on 20th January at the EU Justice & Home Affairs Council of Ministers informal talks in Toledo . Meanwhile a new EU Commission is currently being vetted by the European Parliament and is expected to take office 1st February.
There is a strong possibility that the new EU Commission will revisit the naked scanner issue some time after 1st February and ask MEPs to rubber stamp EU wide rules. One tactic that they are likely to use is the argument that as things stand individual EU countries are free to introduce scanners as they see fit so wouldn’t it be better if EU regulations were introduced to try and reign in countries like the UK who are ploughing ahead? Of course this is similar to the arguments used in the UK with regard to the need to regulate CCTV, but the fact is that all regulation does is to endorse acceptance of naked scanners or CCTV by formalising their “proper use” and leaving no room for the rejection of such technologies.
Another card that the EU Commission is likely to play is the so called advance in naked scanner technology since the last EU Parliament debate in 2008. Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport has unveiled a new naked scanner that lets a computer analyse the naked image rather than a security official . Ad Rutten, Schiphol Group chief operating officer said:
Well you don’t need the human interface any more, so we don’t need a controller anymore who looks at the pictures, who analyses the pictures. The computer can analyse the picture. So, by taking out the human interface, we think that the [European] parliament in the next round will approve the body scanners.
US announces plans to replace metal detectors with naked scanners in April 2009
Like the UK, naked scanners have been waiting in the wings for some time in the United States. The Transport Security Administration (TSA) has been trialing naked scanners in US airports since 2005 and in April 2009 they announced their intention to roll out scanners across the US, a New York Times report 4th April 2009  stated:
In a shift, the Transportation Security Administration plans to replace the walk-through metal detectors at airport checkpoints with whole-body imaging machines — the kind that provide an image of the naked body.
Also in April 2009 the US congress passed an amendment  to the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act  that prohibits blanket scanning of passengers, calls for passengers flagged by another method of screening to be offered the option of a pat-down search instead of a naked scan and prohibits the storage, transfer, sharing, or copying of images. In July 2009 the Bill moved to the US Senate where it has yet to be voted on. On 20th January the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing ‘Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Anti-Terrorism Tools and Inter-Agency Communication’ and naked scanners were expected to be on the agenda.
Freedom of Information and Parliamentary Answers
The US privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has posted more than 250 pages of documents  it obtained from the TSA under the Freedom of Information Act concerning naked scanners. The documents reveal that the naked scanners used in the US can store and send images (when in “test mode”) contradicting the TSA website claim that: “The machines have zero storage capability”. The documents also show that the scanners have 10 variable privacy settings.
In the UK further details of government policy have been revealed via answers to Parliamentary Questions. When asked “what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of full body scanning security equipment for airports that does not use passive millimetre wave technology”, Paul Clark (Department for Transport) replied  that:
The Department for Transport has assessed the effectiveness of active millimetre wave and backscatter Xray technology. It is envisaged that the body scanners to be deployed at UK airports will use either of these methods.
When asked if the government will “assess the compatibility with child protection legislation of the operation of full body scanners in UK airports”, Paul Clark 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.
The question of compulsion
When asked in another Parliamentary Question “whether individuals who wish not to use body scanners at airports will be able to opt for a manual pat down search”, Clark said :
No. Individuals who are asked to use the body scanner but decline to do so will not be permitted to fly.
In the 5th January House of Commons debate, when asked by one MP whether the government will “respect those who may have a deep-felt objection to the scanners by allowing them to opt instead for a body-pat search”, Johnson reiterated Clark’s statement on compulsion with his reply: “I do not foresee a situation in which people can simply object to a body scan”. Note he says he can’t foresee a situation where people can object, not where people would object.
What’s wrong with nudey scanners?
Naked scanners are an unnecessary and illiberal measure that like CCTV amounts to security theatre. Asking law abiding citizens to submit to a digital strip search is not acceptable. Security staff should have reasonable suspicion before subjecting anyone to a search of any kind. The blanket scanning of all passengers is not proportionate and treats everyone as a suspect. The police are governed by rules that state they must only search someone when they have reasonable suspicion to do so and, in the case of a strip search, after they have been detained. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act, 1984 (PACE) Code of Conduct, Code C Annex A which deals with strip searches  states:
A strip search may take place only if it is considered necessary to remove an article which a detainee would not be allowed to keep, and the officer reasonably considers the detainee might have concealed such an article. Strip searches shall not be routinely carried out if there is no reason to consider that articles are concealed.
Code A gives guidance on the grounds required for conducting a search (the objective test of suspicion) :
Reasonable grounds for suspicion depend on the circumstances in each case. There must be an objective basis for that suspicion based on facts, information, and/or intelligence which are relevant to the likelihood of finding an article of a certain kind or, in the case of searches under section 43 of the Terrorism Act 2000, to the likelihood that the person is a terrorist. Reasonable suspicion can never be supported on the basis of personal factors alone without reliable supporting intelligence or information or some specific behaviour by the person concerned. For example, a person’s race, age, appearance, or the fact that the person is known to have a previous conviction, cannot be used alone or in combination with each other as the reason for searching that person. Reasonable suspicion cannot be based on generalisations or stereotypical images of certain groups or categories of people as more likely to be involved in criminal activity.
Not that the UK government is particularly concerned by the inconvenience of legality. On 12th January, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR – NB not part of the EU) ruled that UK police powers under The Terrorism Act (2000) to stop and search individuals without reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing were unlawful . The judgment states:
The absence of any obligation on the part of the officer to show a reasonable suspicion made it almost impossible to prove that that power had been improperly exercised.
In conclusion, the Court considered that the powers of authorisation and confirmation as well as those of stop and search under sections 44 and 45 of the 2000 Act were neither sufficiently circumscribed nor subject to adequate legal safeguards against abuse. They were not, therefore, ‘in accordance with the law’, in violation of Article 8.
The use of such technology must surely fall fowl of many laws, not least the Data Protection Act (DPA). The DPA exempts personal data processing from various data protection principles when the processing is for the prevention, detection or resolution of crime but the Act states that the processing must be “necessary”. Chris Pounder, a Data Protection expert at Amberhawk Training expands on this issue :
each ghostly image will be associated with other identifying information already in the possession of the data controller (e.g. the boarding card identification details of the data subject). This means the data controller has to be fair – so not only has there to be signage (which alerts each data subject to the purpose of the scan and other information to make the processing fair) but also the outcome of the processing has to be fair (in this case, by allowing travellers an alternative to the scan so that personal data are not processed). In relation to Schedule 2, the processing has to be “necessary” in terms of the legal provisions that surround airport security.
Naked scanner as the answer to years of airport security theatre
For almost a decade now airline passengers have been subject to lengthy airport security delays as they pass through metal detectors; have nail files, pen knives and nail scissors confiscated; remove shoes, coats and belts; dispose of liquids; and have belongings wiped with a cloth and placed in a magic sniffer device. Now naked scanners are being sold to the public as a way of speeding up the check-in process – simply submit to a digital strip search and you can speed your way to the departure lounge to drink over-priced coffee and get that next shopping fix.
There is growing opposition to naked scanners in the UK, the US and in Europe. Privacy International has issued a statement ‘on proposed deployments of body scanners in airports’ which states:
we are deeply concerned that airport and security authorities increasingly deploy fashionable and unproven technology or intrusive measures on the basis of one-off security breaches. Allowing our security to be determined by knee-jerk responses is dangerous and counter productive.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) issued a press release ‘New security measures are a knee-jerk reaction to the recent failed terrorist attack’  that says:
IHRC is concerned that the use of full body scanners is a draconian step taken by the Gordon Brown government to appear strong on matters of security.
Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) commenting on suggestions in 2006 that children could be naked scanned  said:
Children have a right to their dignity, particularly at an age when many are extremely sensitive about their bodies. To degrade a child in this way is tantamount to abuse.
American Civil Liberties Union has said :
Passengers expect privacy underneath their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal details of their bodies such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes and the size of their breasts or genitals as a pre-requisite to boarding a plane.
The US privacy group The Privacy Coalition has set up a ‘Stop Digital Strip Searches’ campaign  and Facebook group  and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)  (also in the US) have been doing some campaigning on the issue and have created an excellent information resource.
The long term health risks associated with naked scanners are unknown. Some of the scanners expose people to low levels of ionising radiation and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) produced a ‘Presidential Report on Radiation Protection Advice: Screening of Humans for Security Purposes Using Ionizing Radiation Scanning Systems’  (prepared by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP)) which points out that: “There is reasonable evidence that three to five percent of the population is significantly more sensitive to ionizing radiation than average”. Assurances such as those made by the Civil Aviation Authority that: “The radiation received from the scanning process is the equivalent to 3 minutes radiation received on a transatlantic flight”  are not the same thing as saying that being exposed to yet more radiation or electromagnetic energy is safe.
How do we stop naked scans?
The obvious steps that can be taken to stop naked scans are to contact MPs, MEPS, members of Congress and the Senate, airports, airlines and travel companies to express concerns. But ultimately privacy conscious citizens the world over need to say NO to naked scanners. If you are asked to submit to a naked scan politely decline and ask why you are being digitally strip searched. If airports try to introduce compulsory naked scanning of passengers but the passengers refuse then at first they may stop people flying. But if enough people refuse they will stop naked scanning. Perhaps a no-fly insurance fund should be set up by civil liberties groups to reimburse costs of those at the vanguard of such refusal. A measure like this will only persist if we, the people let it. That is what democracy is – it is not about voting once every five years and then letting whoever “wins” do whatever they like no matter how illiberal or mad.
The next steps if we don’t stop it – naked cameras.
CCTV cameras based on similar technology to naked scanners have also been developed. An Oxfordshire based company ThruVision Systems Limited has developed a range of naked CCTV cameras including the T5000  which is “an outdoor people screening system that can detect concealed threats at distances”. In other words such a naked camera could be used to scan crowds of people without their consent. In July 2009 a computer expert who worked on the same trading estate as ThruVision (the Milton Park estate, near Didcot) told local newspaper the Oxford Mail :
One day I noticed a small white box-shaped trailer, which looked like a suitcase on a tripod, at the back of the ThruVision offices. The trailer was in the car park but there were wires connected to the camera four metres away on a small public grass area.
ThruVision refused to comment when asked to confirm whether they were testing the T5000 on the unsuspecting public passing through the business park.
Following the pants incident ThruVision issued a press release ‘ThruVision Systems Ltd. announces how its products can assist in airport security screening’ , in which they lay out their portfolio of products:
- ThruPort, a standalone screening solution for entrances and checkpoints.
- T5000, for primary screening and perimeter security indoors or outdoors at distances of up to 25 metres.
- T4000, for primary screening indoors at distances of up to 15 metres.
- T8000, for checkpoint security and secondary screening.
Crowded places and naked scans
ThruVision say these products can be used to “enhance security at checkpoints and elsewhere”. The “elsewhere” was intimated in a Parliamentary Debate in the House of Commons on 20th January when Bob Spink MP asked “Does the Prime Minister agree that we must be vigilant in protecting passengers, particularly those who travel into London on trains and the tube, as that is probably still the main threat?” The Prime Minister replied :
…we have to improve at all times the security of our trains and our transport infrastructure, and the protection of people in public places. Lord West [Security Minister] is co-ordinating the work that is being done to see what measures can be taken to improve security in all these areas, and we will continue to update our counter-terrorism strategy in the light of all the new information we have.
The use of naked scanners on the Rail and Underground was first suggested back in 2005. A November 2005 Department of Transport press release  describing a planned trial stated:
The trial will test equipment at a small number of UK railway and London Underground locations. [...] A small number of randomly chosen passengers will be asked to take part in the tests. This may involve either going through a scanner or being searched either by hand, with the use of portable trace equipment or with sniffer dogs. Bags may be passed through x-ray machines.
Last year the UK government ran a consultation entitled ‘Working together to protect crowded places’. Published alongside the consultation was a supplement ‘Safer Places’  that contains case studies, the supplement states:
At a major city station the whole station facility has been separated into security zones. The Restricted Zone (RZ) encloses the international departure and arrival lounges, platforms and trains and access is limited to ticketed passengers and authorised personnel. Passengers must pass through a security area operating airport standard screening systems.
In addition the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) has produced a guidance document ‘Counter Terrorism Protective Security Advice for Stadia and Arenas’  that states:
When the building search is complete all persons entering the stadium should go through a search regime. Dependent on the threat this search could be restricted to random bag searches or at times of a high security risk extend up to full body searches of every person entering the ground.
In January 2007 the Sun newspaper obtained a leaked Home Office memo , which according to the Sun: “says ‘detection of weapons and explosives will become easier’ and says cameras could be deployed in street furniture.”
According to media reports the Dutch police are also working on mobile naked cameras/scanners, the reports are said to be based on a confidential document which describes the plans to conduct searches in “high risk areas”. According to DutchNews.nl :
The document also mentions the possibility of carrying out long-distance scans and mass scans on crowds at events such as football matches. In addition, the scan could be combined with a sniffer detector which would analyse an ‘air sample’ from a suspect for traces of drugs or explosives
Governments around the world look set to exploit the pants incident to spread airport style screening to ‘crowded places’, which could of course be everywhere. Parliamentary debates in the UK only seem to focus on how fast or how many crowded places can be turned into high security prisons as we move towards a total surveillance society. Governments always introduce measures that remove the freedoms of its citizens allegedly for the safety or security of those citizens – they rarely declare malevolent intent. That is why we have the concept of civil liberties – to protect citizens from the excesses of the state. They will continue to remove freedoms in the current climate of fear until we refuse to let them.
Prisoners and the BOSS chair
As the UK government moves towards making the entire country into a prison we would do well to bear in mind the type of scanning now routinely used on inmates in UK prisons since 2009. The “weakness” of naked scanners is that they can see through the clothes but they cannot see inside your body’s cavities. Ministry of Justice minister Maria Eagle told the House of Commons last year :
We have equipped all prisons with a body orifice security scanner (BOSS chair)  to detect internally concealed items such as mobile phones
Whist this has been touted in parliament as targeted at prisoners to disrupting the supply of illicit drugs into prisons, a ‘Prison Service Instruction – Use of the Body Orifice Security Scanner (BOSS)’ , reveals there is already function creep, the instruction states:
The BOSS may be used to scan prisoners, social, official and professional visitors and staff under Prison Rules 41, 64 and 71 (YOI Rules 47, 69 and 75) respectively. The frequency of searches using the BOSS and policies for its use are for local discretion and must form part of the Local Security Strategy (LSS), to be agreed by the Governor and Area Manager.
The introduction of naked scanning technology gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ and it must be stopped.
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For more info see www.no-cctv.org.uk