Do full body scanners breach the right to privacy? [updated x 2]

17 February 2010 by

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have written to the Government urging caution before the introduction of full body scanners at UK airports; not that it has slowed the Government down – apparently, the scanners will be in UK airports as early as next week. Passengers at Manchester Airport have been experiencing full body scans since October, but clearly the recent botched ‘Detroit Bomber’ terrorist attack has speeded up their uptake.

John Wadham, group director legal at the EHRC says:

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.

According to the BBC, The Home Secretary has said that even if the Detroit bomber had been checked by a full body scanner, there would only have been a 50-60% chance of his bomb being detected. Neil Fisher in today’s Guardian bemoans the lack of any integrated security strategy, and the Guardian has previously warned that the scanners could breach child pornography laws. Clearly this debate will continue.

Update – 1 Feb 2010: It appears that body scans are now compulsory for some passengers in Manchester  and Heathrow airports.

Update – 16 Feb 2010: The Equality and Human Rights Commission have written to Lord Adonis to tell him that the body scanners may be illegal. Trevor Philips says:

‘The right to life is the ultimate human right and we support the government’s review of security policies. State action like border checks, stop and search and full body scanning are undertaken for good reasons.  But without proper care such policies can end up being applied in ways which do discriminate against vulnerable groups or harm good community relations. National security policies are intended to protect our lives and our freedoms; but it would be the ultimate defeat if that protection destroyed our other liberties.’

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