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article imageU.K. equality commission questions legality of body scanners

By Chris Dade     Feb 16, 2010 in World
The U.K.'s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has written to the government suggesting that the full body scannners already in use at two major British airports may be both discriminatory and a breach of privacy laws.
The letter from the EHRC has, says Politics.co.uk, been sent to Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis.
It was on Feb. 1 that London Heathrow and Manchester were the first airports in the U.K. to introduce full body scanners as part of increased security ordered by the government following the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it was preparing to land in Detroit in the U.S. on Dec. 25.
Reporting on the day the scanners were supposedly introduced Travel Weekly indicated that Manchester had been trialling body-scanning technology since October while Heathrow apparently could not confirm when the scanners would be introduced at the airport in West London.
In addition it was noted that passengers traveling through Birmingham airport may find themselves subject to a body scan come the end of February.
Having written to Home Secretary Alan Johnson in January to express its concerns regarding what was then the proposed introduction of the scanners EHRC chairman, Trevor Phillips has explained why Mr Johnson's colleague has now received a letter also.
He said:State action like border checks, stop and search and full body scanning are undertaken for good reasons. But without proper care such policies can end up being applied in ways which do discriminate against vulnerable groups or harm good community relations. National security policies are intended to protect our lives and our freedoms; but it would be the ultimate defeat if that protection destroyed our other liberties
Big Pond News states that while the Transport Ministry has asserted that "those passengers who are randomly selected for screening will not be chosen because of any personal characteristics" the EHRC is fearful that selection will be based upon "'religious dress, destination, nationality or national origin", thereby creating "an unlawful ... discriminatory effect".
With regard to the "invasion of privacy" Big Pond News points to the wording of Article 8 of the Council of Europe's Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms as potentially being breached by the use of body scanners.
Article 8 reads:1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.
2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others
Meanwhile the Transport Ministry, speaking too of its attempts to ensure security procedures are "'legal, proportionate and non-discriminatory" has reportedly "published an interim code of practice which addresses privacy concerns in relation to body scanners".
According to Politics.co.uk an "equalities impact assessment" is being conducted by the U.K. authorities.
The man who attempted to bomb Northwest Airlines Flight 253, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had boarded the plane in the Dutch capital Amsterdam and the Netherlands is another country planning to use or already using body scanners.
Last week Digital Journal reported on how a group of Muslim scholars in North America had declared that the "general and public use" of full body scanners is "against the teachings of Islam, natural law and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty".
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