Exposing Naked Scanners In The EU And Beyond – Again

Image from FlyWithDignity.org

Image from FlyWithDignity.org

One year on from the fast tracking of digital strip searches and the hysteria over the “pants incident” [1], the push for the use of naked scanners continues. Whilst naked scanners have not been front page news for some time, the issue, like many others the mainstream media choose to ignore, forges ahead unexposed.

The delayed EU Commission green paper

In June 2010, the European Commission finally published a green paper on the use of naked scanners at EU airports [2] — a paper that was originally promised back in 2008! The Commission’s green paper refers to naked scanners as “Security Scanners” in an attempt to play down the intrusive nature of the technology and highlight the supposed security benefits.

The Commission presents the all too common argument at the EU level — that it is inevitable that scanners will be introduced, so what we need is European Regulation to create a uniform system for obedient citizens to have their private parts scanned.

World wide scanning

The green paper states that naked scanners are being used at airports worldwide: that the US (as of June 2010) deploys approximately 200 naked scanners in 41 airports as “secondary means for screening”, and that by 2014 the US plans to have 1800 naked scanners “in order to be able to gradually introduce them as a primary screening method rather than as a secondary screening method”; that Canada deploys 15 naked scanners as of June 2010, with a total of 44 naked scanners planned for deployment in 2011; and that Russia has been using naked scanners at airports since 2008, whilst countries such as Japan, Nigeria, India, South Africa, Kenya, China and South Korea are apparently considering using them.

Over at the FlyerTalk website (a passenger-focused forum for discussion of air travel related issues) they have compiled a handy list of US and major international airports that use naked scanners [3] (or as FlyerTalk calls them “Nude-O-Scopes”). FlyerTalk has also put together a list of airport alternatives in the US without naked scanners [4]. FlyerTalk has been criticised for doing this by the US Transport Security Agency (TSA).

EU legal framework

The EU Commission green paper lays out the current legislative framework for the use of scanners in Europe, whereby EU Member States and/or airports “are given a list of screening and controlling methods and technologies from which they must choose the necessary elements in order to perform effectively and efficiently their aviation security tasks”. The paper further clarifies who is calling the shots:

The current legislation does not permit airports to replace systematically any of the recognised screening methods and technologies by Security Scanners. Only a decision of the Commission supported by Member States and the European Parliament can be the basis for allowing Security Scanners as a further eligible method for aviation security. However Member States are entitled to introduce Security Scanners for airport trials or as a more stringent security measure than those provided for by EU legislation.

It is worth remembering that in 2008 the EU Commission proposed a draft regulation [5] that would have added naked scanners to the list of screening and controlling methods and technologies from which Member States must choose “in order to perform effectively and efficiently their aviation security tasks”. So in effect what the Commission seems to be saying is: everyone is doing it even though they are not supposed to, but it’s what we want them to do really so we will regulate what they are doing to make it official, then they can just carry on.

People in the European countries that are already introducing naked scanners may be tempted to think that the EU will save them, because their own government looks so bad – surely the EU has to be better? In reality the EU adds a thick layer of de-democratising complexity and allows governments to “policy launder” [6] – a process whereby controversial policies are pushed at the supra-national level to avoid debate in national parliaments, and then hiding behind EU or international obligations “that must be followed” when that controversial policy becomes a “national requirement”.

Trial or error?

The Commission raises its concern about what it calls “Fragmentation in the Member States”, whereby States can introduce naked scanners either “i) by exercising their right to apply security measures that are more stringent than existing EU requirements” or “ii) temporarily, by exercising their right to conduct trials of new technical process or methods for a maximum period of 30 months”. The UK’s roll-out of naked scanners at Manchester, Heathrow and Gatwick airports has been part of such a so-called “equipment trial”.

Apparently this fragmentation could spread to the “fundamental rights of EU citizens”, or so says the “Own-initiative report procedure file” on “Aviation security with a special focus on security scanners”, or to give its snappier name “INI/2010/2154″ [7], which states:

Different standards of scanners currently deployed in Europe bring a serious risk of fragmenting fundamental rights of EU citizens, impeding their rights of free movement and escalating their health concerns related to new security technologies. While security scanners are still exceptional at European airports, there is a growing need to address these concerns and find a common solution. The Communication examines arguments that only the common European standards for aviation security can provide the framework ensuring a harmonised approach to the use of Security Scanners at airports. It looks at how such a harmonised approach should incorporate EU fundamental rights standards and a common level of health protection to allow adding this technology to the existing list of equipment for screening persons at airports.

As usual wading through EU legislation is extremely time consuming as it is couched in impenetrable procedures and legalese. According to INI/2010/2154 the European Parliament will next consider the views of various committees, as well as the views of Member States, with a “report scheduled for adoption in committee” in April and a provisional date for a debate on 9th May.

Hardly surprisingly, the Commission green paper states Member States such as the UK, Finland and the Netherlands who have been “enrolled in trials” have reported that naked scanners “are a valid alternative to existing screening methods in terms of effectiveness of detecting items of different materials, improvement of the level of passenger throughput; general acceptability by passengers and increase of staff convenience”, with “positive outcomes of the trials regarding health, safety and privacy”! The detail of the peer reviewed scientific studies upon which these Member States have undoubtedly based such conclusions would make interesting reading one imagines.

Safety

Both the UK and US authorities have opted for X-ray Backscatter scanners which have raised serious concerns about safety. The use of X-ray equipment is subject to the Euratom radiation protection legislation, and in the case of Backscatter naked scanners, the provisions on the non-medical use of ionising radiation. This legislation states that the maximum exposure to ionising radiation must not be more than 1 millisievert (mSv) or 1000 microsievert (µSv). The Commission paper state:

Typically a single backscatter X-ray scan of an individual will result in the person receiving a radiation dose between 0.02 and 0.1 µSv [microsievert]. Radiation doses are cumulative, so an individual’s total dose will depend on the number of scans. It would take around 40 screenings per day to reach the dose limit, not taking into account further exposure.

The Commission calculates the 40 screenings quota as follows: 1000 µSv = 1mSv, so 40 screenings in one day is 40 x 0.1 µSv = 4 µSv x 250 (presumably the number of days in the year when the theoretical person is naked scanned) = 1000 µSv, or 1mSV (maximum exposure according to the Euratom radiation protection legislation).

Meanwhile the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA) “recommends a dose constraint of 300 micro Sv/year to a member of the public from practices involving the deliberate use of ionising radiation sources”. On the HPA’s ‘Spotlight on airport x-ray scanners’ [8] web page it states that the dose from a backscatter x-ray naked scanner “can be about 0.02 – 0.03 microsieverts per scan”.

Whilst in December, in a parliamentary Written Answer Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers told MPs that the HPA had concluded that “the effective dose from one scan is 0.02 micro Sv or less”. This, she explained, is about the same as the “effective dose received for 1.4 minutes flying at airline cruising height”. However, what she meant to copy from the February 2010 Department of Transport (DfT) report ‘Assessment of comparative ionising radiation doses from the use of rapiscan secure 1000 x-ray backscatter body scanner’ [9] was that 6 Rapiscan Secure 1000 x-ray backscatter naked scans “(return flight with one set of scans at each embarkation)” has an effective radiation dose = 0.12 micro Sv which is the same as 1.4 minutes flying at airline cruising height according to the HPA.

Whatever the correct figures may be, the numbers involved are clearly small and the DfT report is at great pains to tell us that there are greater risks, such as the “Risk of accidental death in a school pupil while at school” which we are told is 70 times the backscatter scan risk. The “Fatal lifetime cancer risk induced by the scan” we are told is “1 in 166,000,000″. Also listed as carrying “much higher fatality risks than backscatter body scanning” is, interestingly, the “average annual background radiation in the UK” – so presumably adding a further dose of radiation won’t matter then! The DfT does acknowledge that “because of the uncertainties at these low levels of exposure the risks to children, people with any type of illness or people undergoing any type of medical treatment are considered to be comparable to the risks to adults” – which would imply that these figures are no more than guesstimates.

In December the Heads of the European Radiological protection Competent Authorities (HERCA) published a statement on the use of naked scanners for security purposes [10]. HERCA has also published a report entitled ‘Facts and figures concerning the use of Full body scanners using X-Rays for security reason’ [11] which pulls together much of the research on naked scanner safety.

The point to make is that radiation exposure is cumulative – each individual dose increases the exposure level incrementally and each person’s capacity to tolerate any size of dose will be dependant on the amount of exposure they have already experienced together with their own personal tolerance level. There is no safe dose of radiation.

US Pilots revolt

In November Captain Dave Bates, president of the Allied Pilots Association (APA), which represents 11,000 American Airlines pilots, wrote a letter to his members [12]. Bates wrote:

It is important to note that there are “backscatter” AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology] devices now being deployed that produce ionizing radiation, which could be harmful to your health. Airline pilots in the United States already receive higher doses of radiation in their on-the-job environment than nearly every other category of worker in the United States, including nuclear power plant employees.

Bates went on to call on pilots to refuse backscatter screening and instead request “the enhanced pat-down” alternative to screening, and recommending that all pilots insist that such screening is performed in an out-of-view area to protect their privacy and dignity.

Compulsion

The EU Commission green paper also looks at the thorny issue of compulsion with regards to naked scanners. The UK government has made naked scanning compulsory at those airports that have scanners with passengers who decline not being permitted to fly. The EU Commission paper states:

As regards the question whether or not Security Scanners should be compulsory it has to be taken into account that under the existing rules and regarding the screening methods recognised today (hand search, walk through metal detector, etc.), passengers are not offered any possibility to refuse the screening method or procedure chosen by the airport and/or the screener in charge. In order not to jeopardize high levels of aviation security, unpredictability of security processes at airports is an important consideration. This being so, individuals should only be able to influence these processes for fundamental rights or health reasons where alternative methods would offer equivalent security guarantees.

In addition, under certain circumstances, several airports would not dispose of the needed capacity and staff resources to provide a regular alternative to security scanners.

Leaving aside for a moment the fact that the effectiveness of naked scanners is questionable, what the Commission seems to be driving at when they talk of alternative methods that would “offer equivalent security guarantees” is something akin to the extreme physical searches that the US Transport Security Administration (TSA) has introduced for passengers who opt-out of naked scans [13]. These “pat-downs” have horrified many travellers in the US and sparked sites such as ‘Fly With Dignity’ [14] and ‘The TSA Abuse Blog’ [15]. In November, author Graham Hancock was a guest on the Disinfo podcast [16], when he described his experience of opting out of a naked scan at a US airport:

As soon as I said that I was going to opt-out, security guards started shouting at the tops of their voices “Opt-out! Opt out!”, and I was taken over to a place on full public view and other security guards gathered round me and then one of them subjected me to the most aggressive, rape-like, violent physical search, it was really extremely abusive, and alarming in fact. Really very unpleasant, a deeply unpleasant experience which went on for about 15 minutes. It was a full scale physical humiliation.

And now that I’ve learnt that many others have [been] subjected to the same experience it’s obvious that what’s going on here is that that opt-out element is really just window dressing and that what they’re trying to do is to make the experience of opting-out so unpleasant for us that all of us will just automatically opt-in to the naked body scanner, and what I find really disturbing about that – it’s not so much the issue of nakedness, I really don’t care that much about it – it is the issue of obedience – that we are being taught a habit of automatic obedience to authority here, and I believe that automatic obedience to authority is a really bad thing.

What sort of society?

Here Hancock starts to address the deeper issues of why naked scanners are so bad, issues beyond nudity and radiation exposure (important though those issues are). In an euobserver.com YouTube channel programme ‘Let’s talk about EU, Body Scanners’ [17] Dutch MEP Judith Sargentini took part in a debate with other MEPs about naked scanners in which she pointed out that the issues of safety and privacy can quite possibly be overcome, so the core issue becomes whether this is the sort of world in which we want to live. Sargentini said:

There’s demand that we have, and I’ve heard you phrase it – it’s privacy, the body integrity, making sure that data are not collected, and health issues, very important. But I think that these can be overcome and that shouldn’t be the end of our debate, because that’s what worries me. We can spend another three weeks waiting, or three months waiting – I visited myself, I wanted to see I didn’t want to wait until the commission comes up with information, and I see that all the technical demands that I had can be met. Which leads me to the bigger question – if it is all so perfect and if its actually client friendly because it goes quicker than frisking, […] – it saves you time on your flight to the US – so if there’s all kinds of benefits then it leaves us with the very dangerous question – what happens if they put this in front of the local library and if they put this here at the national parliament? Is that the society that we want? And that’s the point I think we should focus on and not lose ourselves in a technical debate because before we know it someone has put them in front of the library.

Is it worth it?

Much of the discussion at the EU level is about the so-called balance between privacy and security, or health risks and security – but this metaphor of balance is false.

In January the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) held a conference ‘The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures’ [18] in Washington DC. Security Expert Bruce Schneier spoke at the conference about naked scanners and the wider issues of airline safety and security (a video of his speech is available on line [19]). It is worth quoting Schneier’s speech here at length, he said:

In the past decade we’ve had 469 passengers, this includes crew and terrorists, that are killed as a result of violent passenger incidents – this is on planes. 265 of them, that’s more than half, were 9/11. There have been no fatal incidents on the planet since those two russian aircraft in 2004. This is actually the longest streak without fatal incidents since World War II.

2000’s death toll was about the same as 1960’s, substantially less than 1970’s, 1980’s. 2001 was the fourth most violent year for violent passenger incidents, that’s after 1985, 1988, 1989 – the ’80s were ugly. Of course a lot more people are travelling in the past decade than they were in the ’80s, so we’ve seen – again I pulled the numbers – 22 passengers killed per one billion enplanements and that’s in the 2000s and the 1990s, which is about six times safer than previous decades. The 1960s was 191 deaths per billion enplanements. In the United States past decade, we’ve had incidents on six airplanes, four on September 11th [2001], the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber. That’s one incident per sixteen and a half million departures. Our odds right now of being on a terrorist plane is about 1 in 10.5 million [in the US], and that’s about twenty times greater than being struck by lightning. That’s the mathematics.

And I’d like to see more of us accept the mathematics of terrorism – the risk is rare, it’s very rare. But the risk isn’t zero. I don’t think, basic screening aside, we can ever stop a crazed loner like the Fort Hood shooter. All more airport security would do is make him start shooting outside the security gates. And sometimes you can do everything right and still have it come out wrong. The thing about rare events is when they occur it’s not always evidence of systemic failure. […] So there’s a counter story that I think we should all adopt and the counter story is one of indomitability. We should simply refuse to be terrorised. We should not over-react, we should not become defensive. There is an inherent risk of living in a free society and that is a risk our country’s founders embraced and that’s a risk I think we should. I think we should roll back the fear-based 9/11 security measures. I mean it’s simple things – stop telling people to report suspicious activity – they already do that when it’s truly suspicious, they don’t need to be told. When you’re told to watch your neighbour you report things like “they dress funny” and “their food doesn’t smell good” and “they talk in a funny language”. When you prime people to report ‘suspicious’ they end up reporting ‘different’. Different is not inherently suspicious. Living in a society where we’re suspicious of each other doesn’t make us safer – by increasing our feelings of fear, of helplessness, that the government will solve all our problems if we just kept quiet and did what they told us to do.

[…]

The most dangerous part of your airplane flight is still the taxi ride to the airport. That hasn’t changed and it probably will never change. Automobiles kill more people every month in the US than 9/11 did. Last January’s earthquake in Haiti killed more people than terrorism did since the beginning of time. You watch enough movies and TV and you start thinking that terrorism is easy. Turns out it’s not. I get asked all the time – where are all the terrorist attacks? It’s hard, this is hard to do. It seems easy but it’s hard. Terrorism is hard and it’s easy to make mistakes.

[…]

Terrorism is not a transcendent threat, it cannot destroy our country, it cannot destroy our way of life, it’s only our reaction to terrorism that can do that. If we reduce the freedoms inherent in our society, we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them. If we engage in fearmongering we’re doing the terrorists’ work for them. The more scared we are the more effective the terrorist attacks are. In fact if we get scared the terrorists succeed even if their plot fails. If we’re indomitable then the terrorists fail even if/when their attacks succeed.

(Other interesting videos from the EPIC conference are available on the C-SPAN website [20]).

Where will it end?

Jacques Ellul warned in his 1964 book ‘The Technological Society’ of the dangers inherent in a society driven by technology and the security-industrial complex, he wrote:

The techniques of the police, which are developing at an extremely rapid tempo, have as their necessary end the transformation of the entire nation into a concentration camp. This is no perverse decision on the part of some party or government. To be sure of apprehending criminals, it is necessary that everyone be supervised. It is necessary to know exactly what every citizen is up to, to know his relations, his amusements, etc. And the state is increasingly in a position to know these things.

This is the world that is being built around us. Is this really what we want to leave as our legacy to the next generation?

Endnotes:


For more information on naked scanners see the following additional links:

No CCTV’s naked scanner articles:
‘Naked scanners, naked CCTV and barefaced lies’ (Jan ’10)
http://www.disinfo.com/2010/01/naked-scanners-naked-cctv-and-barefaced-lies/
‘Naked scanners update – EU parliament debate this week’ (Feb ’10)
http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/blog/naked_scanners_update_-_eu_parliament_debate_this_week.htm
‘Have your say on naked scanners – consultation ends 21st June (Jun ’10)
http://www.no-cctv.org.uk/blog/have_your_say_on_naked_scanners_-_consultation_ends_21st_june.htm

Big Brother Watch’s Body Scanner pages:
http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/home/body-scanners/

Privacy International’s ‘statement on proposed deployments of body scanners in airports’
http://www.privacyinternational.org/article.shtml?cmd[347]=x-347-565802

The Privacy Coalition’s ‘Stop Whole Body Imaging’ campaign
http://www.stopdigitalstripsearches.org/

The Electronic Privacy Information Centre (EPIC) ‘Whole Body Imaging Technology and Body Scanners’ page
http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/backscatter/

‘Stop Airport Strip Searches’ facebook group
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=179598280013

‘All Facebook Against Airport Full Body Scanners’
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=239458517874

‘Airport Body Scanner Truth’
http://bodyscannertruth.com

‘Please Don’t Touch My Junk Song’
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71XIiP8v95Y&feature=watch_response_rev

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