July 26, 2011
Body scanners have become a common sight in EU airports, with the number of machines increasing regularly. Most stand quiet, waiting for a justifiable and well-founded moment to be put into action. Some, however, are used frequently, often in circumstances that raise questions and doubts as to the protection of human dignity and privacy and the rationality of the scanners’ use.
On 6 July 2011, referencing these concerns and stressing the need to protect human dignity, the European Parliament adopted a resolution concerning the use of body scanners. The resolution is a response to the 15 June 2010 Communication of the European Commission on the Use of Security Scanners at EU Airports (COM (2010)311), in which the EC considered the introduction of body scanners across the EU to increase travelers’ security. However, the respect of fundamental rights is at stake.
The EP emphasized that selection for scanning should be random, without any discriminatory criteria – the use of “sex, race, colour, ethnicity, genetic features, language, religion or belief [to choose candidates for scanning] is unacceptable”. The resolution also stressed that particular attention should be paid to the welfare of pregnant women, children, the elderly and the disabled, and all passengers should have the right to refuse body scanning and request alternative screening methods. Regarding the scanned images themselves, the EP stated that data processed during scanning “must be destroyed right after the person has passed through the security control and may not be stored” and “the technology used must not have the capabilities to store or save data”.
The European trend of increased body scans does not seem to apply at Warsaw Chopin Airport where, despite possessing body scanners, customs guards often prefer to order a personal search. The case of Mr. Shaminder Puri might serve as an example. A British Sikh who leaves in Poland but works internationally. Mr. Puri often travels from Warsaw Chopin Airport; several times in the years 2009-2010, guards requested that he enter a private room in order to dismantle his turban for security reasons. Each time, he refused, stating that his religion interdicts the removal of the head cover. He instead asked that an alternative security screening measure be used, such as a body scanner or explosive detection equipment. His requests, however, were denied, and Mr. Puri was fined 500 PLN (approx. 120 EUR) for refusing the security checks. Mr. Puri now seeks compensation for the violation of his dignity by security personnel. He states that he has never before been subjected to such treatment in any other airport, though on other occasions his hands have been scanned for the presence of explosive substances after being required to touch his turban.
The Polish case of Shaminder Puri is an example demonstrating that dignity and privacy protection, as well as rationality, should be top priorities of airport security services, not only regarding the use of body scanners but in all means of airport security checks. The proportionality of the interference balanced against the right to human dignity should be remembered on every possible occasion. The European Commission will soon deliver a decision on a proposed legislative act regarding the use of body scanners at the airports of Member States; the Parliament will have the power to overturn that decision within the following three months. Officials should, however, take into consideration that body scanners might be a solution in some cases, interfering less with dignity, privacy and religion rights than other means, with Mr. Puri’s case serving as a warning.
Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska, Coordinator of “Europe of Human Rights”
Author : Europe of Human Rights