Full Body Scanners at Manchester Airport

Manchester Airport is the first airport in the country to have begun a trial of the new body scanners

This morning I visited Manchester Airport to discuss security issues and see the controversial new full body scanners. After the attempted terrorist attack over Christmas there has been further tightening of security at airports and there is now a real prospect of making the full body scanning compulsory.

Personally I have no objection to using the full body scanner, but at the same time I also don’t have a problem with being physically searched by a member of staff. I was a bit disappointed that they wouldn’t put me through the scanner, but of course the scanning has to remain anonymous, and if I was the only person going through, it would have been pretty obvious that it was me.

There are clearly some people who really object to the scanner, and there are some questions being asked about the legality of children going through it, but the general view seems to be that it will become compulsory (if you want to fly), whether we like it or not. I would be really interested to hear what people think about this.

10 responses to “Full Body Scanners at Manchester Airport

  1. I have admittedly not read as much as I should like, but I would be interested in reading the level of radiation exposure involved in stepping through the scanner and how this compares to a conventional 2D Diffraction X-Ray (which is actually a very safe method of body scanning, albeit for medical applications rather than security). Beyond this, my principle concern is that the scan would not have detected the ‘Boxing Day Bomber’, as he is now referred to, given where his explosives were hidden. I would not say it is a waste of time, but I am skeptical about the justification for this intrusion into privacy, and have a deep fear that all security measures we put in place will eventually be subverted.

    • Hi Damien,

      I asked about the radiation issue and was told that passing through the scanner once is the equivalent of 1/20,000th of a conventional medical x-ray. Personally I don’t have a problem with passing through them, but I can appreciate why some people do.


    • In term of incident energy its probably massively less than any conventional medical X-ray. But what should concern us more is the potential for tissue damage, which is pretty much unrelated to energy (e.g. gamma rays are actually pretty safe, very low energy x-rays are lethal). Although THz are too low energy to directly ionise molecules, you can get resonance effects where it damages more complex molecules (e.g. DNA, paper here http://arxiv.org/abs/0910.5294 ), expect to see a rash of miscarridges following widespread adoption of the system.

      As for subverting it, just blow up the people queing to get scanned.

  2. The main practical problem with these scanners, before you get on to privacy issues, is that they don’t work effectively. They would not detect pants bombers. It’s another example of “security theatre” – a measure put in place to make people feel safer about flying (and hence continue to make money for the airlines) rather than something which genuinely makes us safer.

    Security theatre has its place in airports – even with the current threat of terrorism, flying is safer than it’s ever been (especially during the 70s and 80s), and far safer than many other forms of transport, so something which adjusts people’s perception of risk to be more in line with reality isn’t necessarily bad. However, these scanners are very expensive and that money could be better spent on measures such as improving the communication between intelligence services. Unfortunately that’s not visible to the public…

    Security guru Bruce Schneier has a good essay on the security implications of the Pants Bomber at http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/airport_securit_12.html – his blog is well worth reading if you’re interested in these matters, as is his book “Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World”.

  3. Dave said most of what I was going to say (not surprising really as privacy/security issues are his big thing) but I also have to say that if we *are* going to have ineffective security theatre (and the political realities unfortunately say that we are), I’d rather have security theatre that was less humiliating.

    I’m uncomfortable enough going out in a T-shirt or shorts, let alone having people look at negative images of my naked body. I can already think of at least half a dozen ways any potential terrorist could get round this, while innocent people are going to have their privacy invaded. It’s a disgrace, frankly.

  4. If you have nothing to hide and for the safety of all passengers then you should not object to the boby scanners.I myself have no objection to them.

    • If you don’t care, you can have one. But some of us actually care about our personal freedom and will not give in to the state’s constant demand for more power. The number of people harmed directly by terrorist attacks is insignificant compared to almost anything you can think of. It is an gross insult to the people who fought and died fighting for our freedoms, to give in to fascism.

      • Thanks for the 2 responses Murray. An interesting angle on the safety to health of the machinery. I’ve sent the following to Dave Page in response to his comment

        “Apparently 92% have agreed to go through the scanner, and this actually saves money on airport security. I think the real issue is about compulsion. There should be an alternative for people who object to the scan. While I was at the airport we also discussed how to detect materials that were concealed in the body, and other materials that will not show up on a scanner. A number of additional measures are either in place, or in the pipeline, many of which are not being publicised. I would be happy to have a chat with you regarding general safety concerns and also about the potential threats both to planes and other modes of transport.”

        I think people need to recognise that not everyone will be comfortable going through the scanner, just as some people do not feel comfortable being patted down by a security guard.

        John Leech

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