Psst… You want to see some dirrrty pictures?

October 20, 2009

Back in April, I wrote (link here) about the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) dramatic extension of the trialling of body scanners at various airports. Despite the concerns voiced by many people – and despite the potential additional risks of enforced outing of trans people – the scheme was subsequently also implemented on domestic flights within the U.S. (link here).

Needless to say, where the U.S. leads, Britain invariably follows and that’s happened in this case. Manchester Airport has been gearing up to carry out its own trials of the RapiScan machine (what is it with Manchester and its complete disregard for human rights and civil liberties?)

So it’s with a sense of, I have to be honest, Schadenfreude that I see the Manchester rollout looks to be running into its own legal problems.

We already know this technology is highly invasive, as the Times Online (link here) reminds us:

As passengers pass through the machine, hands on either side of their heads, a ghost-like outline of their naked bodies, including private parts, are conveyed to screeners sitting in another room.

There is no hiding place for breast enlargements, piercings, hip replacements and, more importantly, knives or guns.

The image below (via The Guardian) gives a pretty good idea of how the images look:

Body scanner image (Photograph: Dave Thompson/PA)

Only last week, according to the Times Online (link here):

Managers at Manchester Airport acknowledged that the machines highlight breasts and genitals but insisted that the resulting images were neither pornographic nor erotic. But, as one member of staff said: “It does not leave much to the imagination.”

But what a difference a week makes. From yesterday’s Times Online (link here):

Manchester Airport managers have had a rethink on allowing under-18s through the scanner after child protection experts warned that they risked breaking the law by creating indecent images of juveniles.

The law in question would seem to be the Protection of Children Act which apparently states that “it is an offence to ‘show’ and ‘make’ an indecent image of a child”. Initial attempts by airport managers to argue that the images weren’t really images (umm, doesn’t the act outlaw “pseudo-photographs”?) were met with this response from Action on Rights for Children on their blog (link here):

As one of our legal advisers has just pointed out: if a Rapiscan operator beamed what he could see to Piccadilly Circus, nobody would dispute that they were seeing images. And if they displayed people’s genitals, can you imagine the police would say “oh, it’s OK – they aren’t really images”?

The current situation as I understand it is that airport managers have decided to obtain legal advice and in the meantime children won’t be using the scanner.

Which raises the question: if these scanners are, as seems to be the airport’s tacit admission, disproportionately intrusive and remove children’s right to dignity, then why are they considered suitable for use on people over 18 years old who may, like under-18s, also be sensitive about their bodies?

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Other, related posts about body scanners:

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