Europe bans ‘naked’ body scanners

The European Union has banned airports from introducing controversial ‘naked’ body scanners amid fears that they could cause cancer.

The X-ray style scanners, which are widely used in the US and have been trialled in a growing number of airports in Europe since 2009, cost around £80,000 each.

Also known as ‘backscatter’ scanners, they have been widely criticised as akin to ‘strip searches’ because they make passengers who go through them appear naked.

But health concerns are now the focus of the controversy, and the EU has ruled that its member states should not install them until a scientific assessment of the risks has been carried out.

A report earlier this month exposed the health risks associated with the machinery, which uses radiation to detect foreign materials on the human body. While the radiation emitted is low, it has been found to damage DNA and it is claimed that this could potentially cause cancer in a “small number” of travellers.

Manchester Airport, which has 16 of the scanners currently in use, has been told it can continue to use them until November 2012. Current rules at the airport state that anyone who refuses a scan is banned from boarding a flight, and so far, 10 people have been unable to board flights after refusing to be scanned.

The new European airport scanners will look like this. Nah...just kidding

But a statement from the EU advocates that “passengers are given the right to opt out from a control with scanners and be subject to an alternative method of screening.”

Heathrow Airport introduced the scanners last year, but they were scrapped amid complaints about invasion of privacy.

The scanners are also being trialled in Germany, France, Italy, Finland and Holland. The EU ruling means that no new machines will be allowed, in order to “protect citizens’ health and safety.”

In the US, where 250 body scanners are used at airports nationwide, the Transportation Security Administration has repeatedly defended the safety and efficacy of the equipment. According to studies cited on its website, X-ray scanners expose passengers to the same amount of radiation as two minutes of flying on an aeroplane.

But several US studies have shown that a small number of cancer cases could result from scanning millions of passengers every year and critics stateside have called for the scanners to be banned there too. However, the US Transport Security Administration are due to eliminate so-called ‘naked’ body scans after privacy complaints and use software to replace them with a generic image.

Geoffrey Salter

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