UK airport starts body scans
Heathrow first to roll out X-ray machines in wake of failed airliner plot
BRITAIN introduced body scanners at Heathrow airport yesterday after raising its current security threat to 'severe'.
The moves were sanctioned in the wake of the failed attempt by a Muslim extremist to bomb a US-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day.
The scanners, which see through clothes to produce an image of the body, have caused unease among human rights campaigners who fear an invasion of passengers' privacy as well as the disproportionate scrutiny of Muslim travellers.
Last night, British Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis dismissed such concerns saying: "Given the current security threat level, the government believes it essential to start introducing scanners immediately."
He also revealed that Britain raised its terrorism threat level to 'severe', the second-highest level, on January 22, days before London was due to host two international conferences on Yemen and Afghanistan. The conferences took place last week without any security incident.
Mr Adonis said airports at Heathrow and Manchester were the first required to use the scanners and others would follow.
"In the immediate future, only a small proportion of airline passengers will be selected for scanning. If a passenger is selected for scanning, and declines, they will not be permitted to fly," he said.
The British government has been particularly concerned about the botched attempt by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian national, to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on December 25 because he was a student in London between 2005 and 2008.
Mr Abdulmutallab boarded the flight at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, which already has 15 body scanners.
France and Italy have also signalled they will start using the devices at their airports.
An interim code of practice for security staff stipulated that passengers should not be selected for scanning on the basis of gender, age, race or ethnic origin, Mr Adonis said.
The merits and uses of body scanners have been vigorously debated in Europe since the failed Christmas Day bombing.
The European Union's new transport chief Siim Kallas said last month that member states should not use the devices until the bloc had agreed on rules to protect privacy and health.
But the bloc's anti-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove said days earlier that all EU countries should introduce them.