Air travellers face double searches in crackdown
Published 04/01/2010 | 05:00
Airline passengers in Britain will be searched twice, profiled and tested for explosives after Prime Minister Gordon Brown ordered extra security in response to the attempt to bring down a transatlantic jet on Christmas Day.
Full body scanners will also be introduced at Heathrow in weeks, where they will be used for flights to all destinations.
The British Department for Transport will instruct other airports to install the scanners, costing over €110,000 each, as soon as possible. Staff will also be allowed to pat down passengers at the gate, immediately before they board, even though they will have already been searched as they pass into departures.
Other measures will include the use of explosive trace technology. Swabs will be wiped over hand-luggage and then tested to see if the owner has touched explosives. It will take roughly 20 seconds to screen each passenger. Airports are also expected to bring in more sniffer dogs and increase the use of passenger profiling.
The announcements came after Mr Brown said the British government would do everything possible to tighten airport security.
"We have recognised that there are new forms of weapon that are being used by al-Qa'ida and we have to respond accordingly," said Mr Brown.
"First of all, in airports people will see gradually being brought in the use of full body scanners. They will see checks for explosives traces that will be done on hand luggage. Transit passengers will also be checked as well as transfer passengers."
Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, said that while passengers would initially be screened with metal detectors and body scanners, the government hoped to phase out the former, although this would require approval from the EU.
"We will be seeking to negotiate at a European level for scanners to be integrated as part of airport security. This would mean these scanners would take the place of metal detectors."
It could prove difficult to secure European approval for their introduction as the standard method, because some MEPs believe they amount to a "virtual strip search".
Lord Adonis said other changes included the screening of all transit passengers at Heathrow. Currently, they are not required to disembark if their plane stops to pick up other passengers. There could also be restrictions placed on passengers' movements during the final hour of the flight, but passenger profiling is the most controversial new measure.
While some feared ethnic minority passengers would be targeted, supporters said it was more sophisticated and entailed looking for abnormal behaviour such as paying for a ticket with cash or turning up for a long-haul flight without any check-in baggage. Gus Hosein, a fellow of Privacy International, said the technique depended on the availability of good intelligence.
"Profiling can mean all sorts of different things. It can be based on watch lists and relying on information from foreign agencies to say who should fly. That can cause all sorts of problems," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)